Huntington Beach council appears split over police use of body cameras

Huntington Beach council appears split over police use of body cameras
Huntington Beach police headquarters. Officers with the department cited mixed results after a trial study of body cameras. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Huntington Beach City Council members appeared split over police use of body cameras when they discussed the results of a 90-day trial during a study session this week.

Sixteen officers volunteered to wear cameras last year in a pilot program that cost $15,000 and was paid for by a state grant, said Police Chief Robert Handy.


Handy said officers, in a survey after the program, pointed to six incidents in which they thought the presence of a camera de-escalated the situation. He added that video evidence can be useful when serious allegations are lodged against the department.

But 76% of the officers said the cameras caused them to take much longer to complete police reports, 79% said cameras are a low priority and 90% said other issues need attention.

During the trial period, more than 150,000 hours of video were taken, and an average of eight videos were uploaded daily.

Handy cited the use of body cameras in more than one-third of law enforcement agencies around the country in urging the council to approve a five-year contract for the cameras.

"It is no longer if police officers will wear them," he said. "It is now a matter of when."

Councilman Erik Peterson said he thought the cameras were a good idea.

"This is just another one of those technologies that will help our officers do their job," he said.

But Councilman Billy O'Donnell said he opposed the cameras, especially in light of the mixed feedback from officers.

"Cameras are important, but I think we can spend that money in other areas," he said. "I think it's important we upgrade our radios rather than focus on a new toy. We have more pressing needs."

If adopted, the city would have to pay for the equipment as well as data management.

Using 50 of the most expensive cameras would cost the city $281,292 in the first year because of equipment and start-up costs and $160,344 each of the following four years, Handy estimated.

He said the city would also need to upgrade its network bandwidth at a one-time cost of $20,820.

The total charges for the five years and the upgraded bandwidth would come out of a combination of grant and general fund money.

Equipment upgrades are needed about every 2 1/2 years, but these costs are covered with the initial signup, Handy said.


Before making a motion for the council to revisit the issue later, Mayor Jim Katapodis said the implementation of cameras seemed "premature" at this point and agreed with O'Donnell that the money could be used elsewhere.

"I just don't think this is the right time," Katapodis said. "I like the cameras, but I've been seeing some conflicts with them. I'd like to see more successes as far as discovery and officers using those cameras."

Woolsey writes for Times Community News.