Grand jury urges sheriffs to use cameras

02/27/2014

Law enforcement officers should wear cameras to document every field interaction with the public, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury said in a report released last week.

The report, “Get the Picture? Audiovisual Technology and Marin Law Enforcement” recommended point-of-view cameras that can be mounted on a police officer’s hat, collar or glasses to provide an “unbiased audiovisual record,” which would increase the department’s accountability and transparency.

The report follows an incident last July in which a sheriff’s deputy, Evan Kubota, shot a Marin City man twice in the arm. The suspect, Chaka Grayson, 44, had allegedly accelerated his car toward the deputy. Protests erupted in December after the district attorney’s office declined to charge Mr. Kubota for firing at Mr. Grayson.

“There is a problem with law enforcement not only in Marin City, but in Marin County,” one former human rights commissioner said at the time. “An audio or visual record of the encounter would have allowed investigators and community members to better understand what actually occurred,” the report said.

Sheriff Robert Doyle said he plans on doing a pilot test in the near future once the technology is “perfected to a state that would be effective.”

The report highlighted three types of cameras available for law enforcement: license plate scanners, body cameras and in-car video cameras. The license plate scanners have been used to monitor traffic coming from the East Bay, since outsiders driving into the city commit half of the county’s crime, but they each cost thousands of dollars and may violate privacy protections. In-car cameras are slightly cheaper but are limited in their viewing range.

The on-officer cameras are relatively cheap—between $500 and $1,200—and have been found to be effective in other jurisdictions, the report said.

Mr. Doyle hopes a pilot program will test the technology’s effectiveness in lowering citizen complaints, use of force by deputies and cases of resisting arrest before any program is implemented department-wide. In particular, he cited concerns that deputies could turn off or obscure the cameras, which would defeat the purpose of using them to increase accountability. He said the department receives about 12 to 15 citizen complaints a year, one or two of which are usually sustained. He added that he couldn’t remember the last time a complaint about excessive force was proven.