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Bakersfield, Calif., Moves to Try Police Body Cameras

Thanks to a pilot program starting in July, 16 officers and sergeants will use body-worn cameras while on patrol.

(TNS) — The Bakersfield, Calif., City Council unanimously approved a pilot project for police-worn body cameras during its Wednesday meeting. Fourteen officers and two sergeants in the police department’s Special Enforcement Unit will be given the cameras. The project, starting July 1, will last one year.

“We are comfortable in moving forward with a pilot project,” Lt. Jeremy Blakemore told the council. “It allows us to get some firsthand quality data to examine.”

Blakemore said the department estimates the project will cost $18,000, which will cover the cameras and unlimited data storage. Funding for the project will come from the department’s operating budget.

Blakemore said there are several benefits to using the cameras, including providing a clear picture of interactions with citizens, providing transparency and building trust within the community as well as providing time and cost savings in that officers will be able to review the video and write reports more quickly and accurately as well as reducing court appearance time.

“Having a device from the user’s perspective now gives that one piece of additional evidence that can often improve the findings during critical incidents,” Blakemore said. “We hope that in most instances it provides a better understanding of the totality of the circumstances of an incident.”

Sgt. Brian Holcombe said participating officers will be able to review video anytime. The video footage would also be available to supervisors and other personnel.

Holcombe said video footage could be released to the public through Public Records Act requests or other means. The department will have the tools to redact and blur parts of the video if needed for privacy or security reasons.

Holcombe said the department has discussed the possibility of body cameras for years. The department recently finished a detailed assessment of body-camera technology and decided to move toward proposing a pilot project.

The department presented a proposal to the Budget and Finance Committee in March. The committee unanimously recommended the proposal be presented to the full City Council for consideration.

Councilman Andrae Gonzales thanked the police department at the meeting for considering body-worn cameras.

“Clearly it’s one tool and one step in the right direction, and I appreciate all the efforts you’ve been making to better engage the community and strengthen relations with the broader community,” he said.

Holcombe said that if the project goes well, the department could decide to make the body cameras permanent. However, it would be a big financial commitment. BPD estimates it could cost up to $300,000 to outfit the entire department, which would require around 300 cameras.

“It’s an ongoing conversation and a concern for the city of Bakersfield,” Holcombe said.

©2018 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.