Huntington Beach police will begin wearing body cameras

A Los Angeles police officer wears a body camera during a demonstration in 2014. The Huntington Beach City Council voted Tuesday to buy 50 cameras for city police.

A Los Angeles police officer wears a body camera during a demonstration in 2014. The Huntington Beach City Council voted Tuesday to buy 50 cameras for city police.

(File photo | AP)

Huntington Beach police officers will begin wearing body cameras — though how soon has not yet been determined — after the City Council voted 4 to 3 on Tuesday to purchase 50 of the devices.

Police Chief Robert Handy had requested 150 cameras in March. Council members at the time appeared split over whether to purchase any but ultimately opted to buy 50 of them plus 50 iPhones under a five-year contract costing $290,000 and paid for through grant funding.

The iPhones, he explained, would help officers capture images at crime scenes and give them somewhere to upload their video footage to a department-wide cloud system.

Equipment upgrades for the cameras and phones are needed about every 2 1/2 years, but these costs are included in the contract, Handy said, suggesting one upgrade opportunity for the life of the contract.

Sixteen officers volunteered to wear cameras last year in a 90-day pilot program that cost $15,000 and was paid for by a state grant, Handy said.

He said the 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.

“It’s never been more difficult to be a police officer than it is today,” Handy said, referring to recent deadly confrontations involving officers around the country.

He cited the use of body cameras in more than one-third of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. in urging council approval of the contract.

But several members of the Huntington Beach Police Officers Assn. board said the money could be better spent in other areas.

“Our association is very, very concerned that this program is going to cripple our police services, which are already very limited,” said association President David Humphreys, alluding to what he too considered better uses of the money.

Meanwhile, in a separate survey by the association, 76% of the officers surveyed said the cameras caused them to take much longer to complete police reports, and 79% said cameras are a low priority.

Council members Billy O’Connell, Barbara Delgleize and Mayor Jim Katapodis echoed the contention that the funds could be better spent elsewhere.

O’Connell, a former police officer, appeared especially passionate on the topic, urging that the money be used for rifles instead.

“If I was a victim of a crime, would I want the officer to come to my house with a gun or a camera?” O’Connell said. “I want to make sure our officers are protected in every way possible. The only thing that can stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.”

Katapodis, also a former police officer, agreed with O’Connell, calling the decision “premature.”

Councilman Erik Peterson supported the purchase of the cameras, urging the council to allow Handy to make decisions for his department.

“We have to let our managers manage,” he said. “We can’t micromanage them based on the employees telling us what they think.”

Councilman Dave Sullivan said he believed the cameras would create a safer environment for officers.

“There are people out there who want to kill officers simply because they’re officers,” he said. “I think over the last year or two, it gets worse every day. It seems to me if those perpetrators know that an officer has a body camera that will actually film them in their act, that that could be a deterrent.”

After about an hour of debate, the council ultimately decided in the close vote to permit the purchase of the cameras.

Handy said after the meeting that he did not immediately know when the cameras would be purchased or when officers would begin using them.