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San Bernardino County, Calif., Considers Police Body Cam Pilot Program

The proposed contract itself will span 18 months and afford ample time "to complete infrastructure design, hardware and software installation, uniform modifications, system testing and other program requirements that need to be met before the pilot project commences."

(TNS) -- San Bernardino County, Calif., Supervisors are considering approving a roughly $122,000 contract for the 12-month body-worn camera pilot program outfitting 60 to 70 deputies between two stations including Apple Valley.

The proposed contract itself, with Georgia-based Utility Associates Inc., will span 18 months and begin immediately to afford ample time "to complete infrastructure design, hardware and software installation, uniform modifications, system testing and other program requirements that need to be met before the pilot project commences," a county staff report noted.

The order is for 80 cameras in total, with the 10 to 20 not being deployed to be used for training and replacement purposes, San Bernardino County Sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller said Monday.

The contract comes before the board two weeks after Sheriff John McMahon revealed in a sit-down with this newspaper that the trial run was "real close."

Based on the proposed contract, and the planned length of testing, it would appear that the long-awaited pilot program would officially launch by fall, if not earlier.

"We started talking about this years ago and have been studying how this will impact the department," McMahon told this newspaper Feb. 21. "We're really getting there. The money is there to purchase the equipment and to modify our deputies' uniforms to fit the cameras."

The contract with Utility Associates, the recommended consultant of three received proposals, would be paid through the Sheriff's Department Federal Seized Assets Fund. But if authorities decided to implement body-worn cameras throughout all stations countywide, to its more than 1,800 sworn-in members, the costs would certainly require significant and ongoing discretionary general funding.

While the momentum for body-worn cameras is at a high point, it wouldn't be the first test run for the department; Miller told this newspaper nearly three years ago that authorities had equipped deputies in Victorville and Rancho Cucamonga with cameras between February 2012 and May 2013.

Although the experiment produced some encouraging results, there were also headaches: The camera didn't always point toward where deputies were looking and some deputies complained about the comfort, McMahon said.

Then calls to re-visit the feasibility of the cameras grew louder in April 2015 in the wake of the televised beating by deputies of Apple Valley resident Francis Pusok, who had led authorities on a wild chase by horseback.

First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood and 3rd District Supervisor James Ramos, in a joint statement sent to reporters days after the Pusok incident, encouraged McMahon to roll out the pilot program as soon as possible and recommended to the board a larger-scale program for consideration.

Lovingood, who's now the board chairman, said Monday that he believed there was support for the pilot program.

In the era of smartphones, which can be "selectively turned on and off," he said, body-worn cameras would allow for "both sides of the story" in deputy-public interactions.

"I think this will lower liability," he said.

Yet he also suggested it could create certain dilemmas, such as making public record of the inside of residents' homes for calls that might be as innocuous as an unfounded disturbance. The data collection aspect could present an overwhelming burden too, he said, requiring officials to weigh the benefits and costs.

"We look forward to the pilot project," he concluded, "and to be able to measure the outcome."

For the department, the fast-evolving technology and massive back-end data requirements have been a hurdle, while the costs of the cameras themselves are relatively modest — $500 to $1,000 each deputy on average.

Utility, the proposed contractor, has been around since 2001 and says it specializes in software for public safety, transit and utility companies in the U.S.

If approved by the board, the contract outlines a series of deliverables that would precede deputies actually donning the cameras, including development of policies for video, retention and recording; fitting and measuring officers; training administrators, legal staff and deputies; and more technical groundwork such as visiting substations to collect access point data and configuring VPNs and firewalls.

At the conclusion of the 12-month pilot program, authorities and county officials will evaluate the body cameras' effectiveness and the system's long-term financial impact before deciding next steps.

Far smaller police departments in Rialto and Barstow have already implemented cameras, reporting positive results such as drops in citizen complaints. In Rialto, use-of-force by officers plummeted 59 percent over a year period, according to a study by the Police Foundation.

According to a copy of Utility's response to the county's request for proposal, a wider rollout after a well-received evaluation would likely lead to a five-year contract with a consultant, although it's also possible that officials could abandon body-worn cameras altogether.

©2017 Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.