In a time when police interactions are under scrutiny by various facets of the public in which the men and women in uniform often find themselves in tough situations, the Oakdale Police Department, in a move to promote transparency, has joined the growing list of law enforcement agencies in California and the nation to deploy body worn camera technology.
The issuance of the equipment to its 23 police officers began on Wednesday, Nov 16. Police officers went through standardized training from a representative of Taser International, Inc. Since then, all sworn officers have been wearing body cameras, which let police record their interactions with citizens.
“Their primary use is to assist and complement officers in the performance of their duties,” said Oakdale Police Lieutenant Joe Johnson. “They will record all officer initiated activity and calls for service and provide an audio and video recording that can be referred to.”
Johnson said there were exceptions where recording was not required such as incidental contacts, giving the example of someone asking for directions.
“We are excited to equip all of our officers with this essential equipment,” said Police Chief Scott Heller. “This tool helps increase transparency and accountability within the ranks and within the community,”
Heller said that he was with the Modesto Police Department when they were one of the first departments in the nation to utilize body worn cameras and that they were used in Placerville when he was chief of police there.
The Taser Axon Flex cameras issued by the Oakdale Police Department are mounted on a collar, epaulet, or eyeglass frame, all of which capture video closely in line with the line of sight of the officer.
Officer Dan Taylor, who was on duty Monday, Nov. 21, gave an example of how the device worked with the camera mounted on his shirt collar and control box on his duty belt.
“It’s rather convenient,” Taylor said. “You tap the button on the box twice, hear a beep, and there it goes; we’re recording.”
At the end of their shift, officers will download the data captured to be stored as evidence in a cloud-based system. The system purchased allows sharing and the software needed to upload the videos without having to save to a disc.
“It’s another investigative tool,” said CSO Dan Hilgen, who has been working on the body worn camera project for over six months. “It gives transparency to the communication and interaction of an incident.”
Hilgren said as the system develops there are plans for the department to be able to forward the recordings to the Stanislaus District Attorney without needing it transferred to a disc.
The use of police body cameras has rapidly expanded in recent years as departments respond to calls for increased transparency and look to discourage false complaints about police misconduct.
The police department began researching body worn camera technology earlier this year.
At its June 6 meeting, the Oakdale City Council authorized the police department to enter into a purchase and service agreement with Taser International, Inc. to equip the force. The approximately $14,000 initial outlay was partially offset by roughly $10,000 in state funding. The police department began testing and evaluation of the body worn cameras in September.
Oakdale Police are the fourth department in Stanislaus County to start using body-worn cameras. Four years ago Modesto PD started using the cameras. California State University, Stanislaus, police began using them in 2013 and the Ceres Police Department introduced their body worn cameras last year.