San Jose police flip switch on body cameras

A group of 20 San Jose police officers were issued the department’s first body-worn cameras that they will wear on patrol Thursday night, a rollout that the chief called a “historical moment.”

The 20 officers underwent a four-hour training today to learn how to use the Taser Axon Body 2 cameras before their shifts tonight.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia said:

“The training aspect is truly the tip of the iceberg.”

The chief compared the deployment of body-worn cameras to when officers were first introduced to handheld radios and some likely forgot to turn them on.

Garcia said:

“We really want to impress upon the officers that when they’re doing enforcement actions that it’s going to become almost muscle memory.”

Police Lt. Elle Washburn, commander of the department’s body-worn camera administrative unit, said she has been involved with bringing with devices to the officers since 2013.

Washburn was looking forward to the deployment of the cameras and developing evidence through the devices.

The department has a “very specific” policy that details when officers should have the camera on or off, but at times there has to be some discretion for officers to do their job without a “bright-line rule,” Washburn said.

The officers won’t be able to alter or delete any portions of the videos, which they can use to compile reports, according to Washburn.

If an officer is involved in an incident such as a shooting or in-custody death, they can’t view the footage without first providing a statement, Washburn said.

The department is continuing to discuss how it should approach any requests to publicly release videos from the cameras with the San Jose City Attorney’s Office and Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Washburn said.

During a portion of the training session this afternoon at the police Southern Substation, the officers were each given an Axon Body camera and had an opportunity to record a video.

A representative from Taser International Inc., the manufacturer of the cameras, explained the features of the Axon Body 2 including the ability for officers to mark any notable portions of the footage by simply pushing a button.

The cameras come with “industrial-strength magnets” that allows officers to place the camera on their chest and attach to a mount underneath the uniform and against their vest, according to the Taser representative.

The department will be equipping all of its officers with the cameras in waves beginning with the patrol division, followed by the special operations division, gang unit, investigators, reserve unit and command staff, police Officer Albert Morales said.

The department aims to train about 20 to 30 officers each day and expect to finish in the next few months, Morales said.