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Sacramento County Sheriff's Office Begins Body Cam Rollout

Some members of the Sacramento County sheriff's specialty units are the first to be equipped with body cameras. The cameras allow deputies to look at footage and aim to be a tool that provides more accountability.

by Rosalio Ahumada, The Sacramento Bee / February 16, 2021

(TNS) — Members of Sacramento County, Calif.'s sheriff's specialty units hit the streets Monday wearing body cameras two years after the law enforcement agency first requested funding to allow deputies to record video of arrests, uses of force and other interactions with the public.

The Sheriff's Office has received criticism from community advocates for going so long without body cameras. Kershawn Geyger's parents strongly criticized the law enforcement agency last month after their 25-year-old son was was shot and killed during a confrontation with sheriff's gang investigators and there was no video recording of the shooting.

Sheriff's Office Capt. Jim Barnes said it took so long to begin the body camera program because uploading the video footage requires so much storage space. He said the video will be automatically uploaded at the end of shifts and the software does not allow anyone to delete any portion of the footage.

"Accountability on all ends. And I think that's what everybody, the public's been wanting, but also we as law enforcement have been wanting," Barnes said Monday morning at a news conference outside sheriff's headquarters on Orange Grove Avenue. "This will help mitigate some of the complaints coming in."

Body cameras allows deputies to record statements from suspects or witnesses that will be crucial for subsequent prosecutions in court, along with capturing video of physical evidence and establish a timeline of events of crimes in progress.

The cameras also will allow deputies to review the footage and debrief after critical incidents, using the video as a "training tool."

"In the law enforcement world, we have to be ready to evolve," Barnes said. "We can review it, get lessons and learn from it, and then provide additional training to make sure that we improve every day."

The 31 members of the Gang Suppression Unit, Homeless Outreach Team and the North Sacramento area Problem-Oriented Policing Team were selected as the first at the Sheriff's Office to wear the body cameras.

The Sheriff's Office started field-testing cameras in 2017 and officially requested funding for body cameras in 2018. The specialty units were selected as the first to receive the body cameras because theses units have the most interaction with the public.

Barnes said sheriff's policy dictates that deputies are expected to turn on their cameras when they're conducting an enforcement action or responding to a call for service.

"There may be something that arises that absolutely somebody is caught off guard, and they may not have that," Barnes said. "The ultimate thing we want is we want our officers to be safe, but for situational awareness when practical, turn that on because that's what we want."

The cameras are expected to be worn in front near the center of the chest with a straightforward view that might not capture something off to the side. But Barnes said the audio recording from the camera will prove to be just as valuable.

Sgt. Christie Lynn of the Homeless Outreach Team was among the first at the Sheriff's Office wearing a body camera Monday. She said wearing one didn't really feel that different, other than providing an extra layer of assurance as she works in the field.

"It doesn't really change anything. It's just like having an extra body there," Lynn said. "If you are alone on calls, you have somebody else there with you."

Lynn and others wearing body cameras went through a daylong training session to learn how to use them.

The goal for the Sheriff's Office is to have all of its deputies wearing body cameras by June, equipping each division with cameras in a staggered roll out. Sheriff's officials said this pilot program approach allows the agency to study and evaluate the effectiveness, as well as the technology, data storage and best practices.

Having other law enforcement agencies already using body cameras in the region has allowed the Sheriff's Office to learn from them, "and I think that's been advantageous for us," said Sgt. Rodney Grassmann, a sheriff's spokesman.

The Sheriff's Office has had dashboard cameras on patrol vehicles for more than a decade, except for unmarked vehicles used to conduct surveillance.

Sheriff's officials have said there was no video of the reported Jan. 15 shootout with sheriff's detectives that killed Geyger near Ranger Way and Rampart Drive because the detectives were in undercover vehicles.

The Sheriff's Office will learn a lot from these specialty units on how to efficiently use the cameras and applying those lessons as the body camera rollout continues. While a lot can be learned from other agencies, the Sheriff's Office will have to learn from its own approach to body cameras, said sheriff's Capt. Dan Morrissey.

"What I've said to everybody is that this really is like building a puzzle upside down or like a fuzzy picture where you have kind of an idea what it's supposed to look like," Morrissey said. "But how it looks in the end is really dependent on what we do now."

(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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