Burbank rejects police body camera plan

This May 2015 file photo shows Sgt. Mike Fossmo, of the West Valley City Police, demonstrating the use of a body camera, in West Valley City.

This May 2015 file photo shows Sgt. Mike Fossmo, of the West Valley City Police, demonstrating the use of a body camera, in West Valley City.

(Rick Bowmer / AP)

Elected officials last week nixed a proposal — at least for the time being — to purchase 160 body-worn cameras for police officers, citing high costs and concerns about the still-developing technology.

Just one council member, Will Rogers, supported the proposal to commit $570,543 to bring the technology to Burbank, though his motion failed to get a second.

City and police officials cited potential downsides to putting off the purchase, including having to play “catch-up” down the line for a program that’s gaining traction nationwide after a series of deadly police encounters.

“I’m concerned that we don’t even have in-car cameras,” said City Manager Mark Scott. “I’m concerned that the Burbank Police Department is so far below what standard is for this kind of technology that I think it could come up and bite us someday.”

Burbank police officers do wear audio recorders when interacting with the public, but Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse said these devices don’t capture nuances, like body language or surrounding circumstances.

The council winced at the nearly $1.9-million price tag for the cameras over the next five years, but did encourage city officials to come back with more information about any technological or funding-related developments. Police officials had planned to pursue a $184,000 federal grant to subsidize the cost of the equipment.

“I’d rather spend that on other things, to get more street police officers out in the field,” said Mayor Bob Frutos, a retired Los Angeles police officer, adding that he’d also first like to see other big law enforcement agencies try out the technology.

This sentiment was echoed by Burbank Police Lt. Jay Hawver, president of the Burbank Police Officers Assn., who asked elected officials to prioritize fixing the agency’s staffing shortages.

“I believe that filling the 14 vacant sworn positions and restoring the eight positions that have been eliminated over the last 10 years should be a priority,” Hawver said.

Police agencies nationwide are under intense public scrutiny after several fatal encounters involving black men have sparked nationwide protests and calls for reform. But according to a recent audit of the Burbank agency, there have been no “critical incidents,” defined as officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths, for the last five years, which auditors called “remarkable.”

Still, incidents around the country have pushed body cameras into the forefront. Just this week, a prosecutor in Ohio released body-worn camera footage that showed a University of Cincinnati police officer fatally shoot a black man during a traffic stop.

Ray Tensing was indicted Thursday on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter for the killing of Samuel DuBose, a move that has been largely attributed to the footage from his camera.

According to a police report, Tensing claimed he was almost run over by DuBose’s car, and a second officer said he witnessed Tensing being dragged.

“If it was not for this video we’d have two police officers saying it was my brother who tried to kill a police officer,” DuBose’s sister, Terina Allen, told the Los Angeles Times.