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Orange County Sheriff’s Department plans to adopt body cameras

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes in his office in Santa Ana on Feb. 19, 2019.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes talks to a reporter at his office in Santa Ana on Feb. 19, 2019.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department plans to roll out a body-worn camera program over the next 18 months.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors signaled in a nonbinding straw vote Sept. 1 that it would allocate $679,000 in funding for the program’s implementation. Formal approval is expected Tuesday when county supervisors take a final budget vote. The development was first reported by the Orange County Register.

The Sheriff’s Department had initially asked to add 13 positions and receive $1.9 million in funding for the program’s implementation, but the county chief executive officer recommended that the department instead add 12 positions and receive $679,000 in funding.

That sum will cover the cost of the program’s implementation only. The total cost of the program is estimated to be $5 million to $7 million annually, Sheriff Don Barnes told the Board of Supervisors. The cities that contract with the department for policing services are expected to bear about 80% of the annual cost, he said.

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Barnes told the Board of Supervisors that the department has been researching the program for several years and plans to start implementing it by January 2022. Officials must first issue a request for proposals, find a vendor, draft policies and train personnel.

“It’s an issue not only of having a physical device that records, it’s the storage of that device, the bandwidth of moving that information about, the oversight and management of the program, the appropriate redaction of video for protections that are pursuant to public records request acts and legal representation of video and also working with the courts to make sure that it is appropriately transferred to them for prosecution through discovery,” Barnes said.

“All of that takes people to be able to manage that program, which is what we’re moving toward as we go forward.”

Barnes said that the department has been able to take a deliberate approach in adopting body cameras because it has had dash cameras in its vehicles for more than 30 years.

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“But I think now is the time for all the right reasons — for evidentiary value, for oversight, for transparency — to move toward the implementation of body-worn cameras,” he said.

Experts say body cameras are important tools for accountability and transparency, but studies are mixed about how well they work to prevent the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers. Some say the devices are not effective unless they’re coupled with appropriate policies and practices.

The Sheriff’s Department will join multiple cities in Orange County that have adopted body cameras in recent years, including Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Santa Ana and Fullerton. Irvine and Costa Mesa also greenlighted programs earlier this year.

The Los Angeles Police Department began deploying body cameras in 2015, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is scheduled to roll out cameras for deputies working at its Century Station by next month. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors recently set aside nearly $35 million to equip 5,200 deputies and security officers with the devices over the next two years.

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Times staff writers Alene Tchekmedyian and Dorany Pineda contributed to this report.


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