Grand jury knocks Sheriff’s Office on body cams
Body-Worn Cameras arrive to Nevada Cty bit by bit
The Nevada County Civil Grand Jury this month released a report on body-worn cameras, finding that the Sheriff’s Office took two years to issue a request for proposal for the technology — an excessive amount of time, said foreperson David Anderson.
“But the jury was pleased the Sheriff’s Office was moving forward on the topic,” he added.
The grand jury in fiscal year 2015-16 issued a report supporting the use of body cams by the Sheriff’s Office and recommended their adoption.
However, five years elapsed before the grand jury interviewed sheriff’s staff about implementing the cameras, discovering they have yet to be adopted. Although initially declining to take up use of body cams after the 2015-16 report, then Sheriff Keith Royal applied for a Department of Justice Grant in May 2018 and received funding in September of that year.
Anderson said the Sheriff’s Office must follow a number of rules regarding the evidence they obtain. Also, law enforcement must review videos before they’re released to the public.
“These systems are relatively complex,” said Anderson. “You have to have training, policy and procedures for recording, storing, redacting. The videos must be examined frame by frame.”
It is a labor intensive process and a deputy or police officer will sometimes devote a number of hours vetting the recordings. Meanwhile, every law enforcement officer must exercise care to protect the privacy of bystanders captured in the frame, even to the extent bystanders’ faces must be blurred to protect identity.
The grand jury stated there can be no doubt about the value of body cams. National and local incidents that featured body camera footage highlight how video and audio recordings offer vital evidence in resolving interaction between the public and law enforcement.
The grand jury report specifically cited the Feb. 4 Alta Sierra officer-involved shooting of Ariella Sage Crawford, which was captured on a dash-mounted camera. Crawford can be seen with a knife and was shot after chasing an officer.
The grand jury noted that had body cameras been in use with this particular incident, it may have offered additional views and critical evidence to that investigation. The grand jury also stated that Sheriff Shannon Moon was quoted during her campaign for office as saying, “We’re modernizing our office with body-worn cameras and online tools to make a positive impact on the community and the people we strive to protect and serve.”
Andrew Trygg, public information officer with the Sheriff’s Office, said his office must first respond to the grand jury report before commenting publicly.
In its interview with the grand jury before the report’s release, the Sheriff’s Office gave reasons why there was a delay in acquiring the body cameras that goes beyond mere expense for the hardware. Despite the grant, it was not nearly sufficient to fully implement body cams.
“This was in no way going to provide the entire cost of the system,” Anderson said the Sheriff’s Office explained during the interview process for the report. “If your agency is using federal money, then that agency must accept the terms under which that funding is granted.”
Typically, data is stored in a cloud-type environment. It can be stored onsite, though the cloud is more secure and expensive. The more data saved, the higher the cost. Compounding the expense was also the difficulty the Sheriff’s Office faced with extensive instruction on the new gear, which was made more trying under pandemic conditions over the last year and a half, the Sheriff’s Office told grand jurors.
The grand jury offered two recommendations. It advocated to affirm the target date of September 2021 to deploy body cams in the field. It also urged the publication of relevant policies and procedures per state policy.
“The whole purpose of the grand jury report is to inform and educate the public,” Anderson said.
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The history of the building that now houses JJ Jackson’s in Nevada City has a long and storied history.
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