Brea police officers now outfitted with body-worn cameras

Police roof
Brea is the latest O.C. city to roll out body-worn video-recording devices for its police department.
(File photo)

Starting this week, Brea Police Department officers have new devices to carry with them while on patrol: body-worn cameras.

In addition, in-car cameras and a digital evidence-management system bring the force up to date as more than a dozen law enforcement agencies in Orange County before it have adopted similar reforms in the name of increasing transparency.

Earlier this month, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department began phasing in its own body camera program for the numerous cities it patrols.

Brea police solicited several companies last year before deciding that Motorola Solutions’ WatchGuard products best fit the needs of its force, which now numbers 61 sworn officers.

On May 4, 2021, Brea City Council unanimously approved a $993,000 contract with Motorola Solutions over five years. That same month Adam Hawley was appointed police chief after serving on an interim basis and championed the technological upgrade.

“This new system will allow [for] a holistic view of our performance,” Hawley said at the May 4 council meeting. “We in the police department are often our own harshest critics, and we’re striving to use these tools to do our job even better than we are today.”

Prior to adopting body cameras, Brea police used digital audio recorders to document encounters in the field since 1973. The department looked into the new technology in 2016 but found cloud-based storage to be too expensive at the time.

But the times — and policies — are changing.

State law requires law enforcement agencies to publicly release body camera footage of critical incidents within 45 days. The Orange County district attorney’s office routinely releases video evidence from such devices when presenting completed investigations into police shooting and in-custody death cases.

“In today’s environment, prosecutors and defense attorneys have come to expect law enforcement to provide video evidence in nearly all cases,” read a February 2021 Brea staff report. “The public expects law enforcement to be transparent and provide evidence.”

With Motorola Solutions, the smaller-sized Brea Police Department found an affordable price from a manufacturer considered to be reputable.

The department issued 70 body cameras, including to jailers, police service and parking control officers who interact with the public.

Brea police hope to sidestep issues that have saddled other police departments in O.C. that adopted body cameras earlier on. Anaheim first outfitted their officers with such devices in 2014, but battery life became a problem as body cameras were turned on by some officers on the scene of critical use-of-force incidents. The department upgraded to a model with longer-lasting batteries.

With WatchGuard, Brea police issued two changeable batteries and a charger to every officer with a body camera in the hopes of avoiding any such lapses.

“This was one of the selling points of this product for us, as battery life has historically been an issue,” Lt. Chris Harvey said. “Each car also has a charging station, and there are charging and transfer docks throughout the station. Our officers have been carrying them for about two weeks, and so far no reports of them running out of battery mid-call.”

In the interest of transparency, Harvey also stated that a policy manual covering body-worn cameras is completed and will be published online soon.

“The parameters of usage are covered extensively in policy, but if I could boil it down to one phrase, we expect the cameras to be running for the entirety of every call,” he said. “Having them off should be a rare exception that must be justified and/or documented.”

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