San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman: “By the year’s end, all of our officers working in a uniform patrol assignment will be wearing (body cameras). Having officers wearing body-worn cameras is a win-win for both the officer and the community.”
Credit: San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman: “By the year’s end, all of our officers working in a uniform patrol assignment will be wearing (body cameras). Having officers wearing body-worn cameras is a win-win for both the officer and the community.”

We’re living in a video world. Cameras are everywhere: on streets, tablets, smart phones and satellites.

Cameras can also help protect the public and law enforcement alike when placed in key public areas and—increasingly—on police officers themselves.

However, you won’t find very many law-enforcement cameras in the Coachella Valley. For instance, Palm Springs Police Department officers do not wear body cams, nor do their police vehicles have dashboard cams. The same goes for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which enforces law and order in Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and elsewhere.

An early February request to talk about cameras with Alberto Franz, the Palm Springs chief of police, was answered by an assistant who stated that the chief was busy until the end of month. On the contrary, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman was happy to talk, both one-on-one and via email.

“I am a huge proponent and completely support the use of body-worn cameras on our police officers,” Zimmerman said. “We have 600 officers wearing cameras. By the year’s end, all of our officers working in a uniform patrol assignment (about 1,000) will be wearing them. Having officers wearing body-worn cameras is a win-win for both the officer and the community.”

Meanwhile, here in Riverside County, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, the union that represents deputies, is going to court in an attempt to stop the county from issuing body cams to on-duty deputies. Deputy Armando Munoz, the public information officer at the sheriff’s Palm Desert station, stated that “nobody … will talk about the body cameras at this point since the whole issue is still in court proceedings.”

While Chief Franz declined to talk about possible body cameras, Sgt. Harvey Reed, the Palm Springs Police Department spokesperson, did talk. He said management has started looking at different makes and models of cameras. Of particular interest is a clip-on camera that attaches to an officer’s shirt below the collar. It shows the area directly in front of the officer, as well as slightly to the left and right, and records in color with sound.

“When policies and procedures are developed, privacy expectations will be taken into consideration,” he said.

Certainly, when it comes to cameras, privacy issues are important. In fact, former police dispatcher Laura Crawford, now enjoying retirement in Rancho Mirage, remembers when officers’ unions even didn’t want global-positioning systems activated in police cruisers.

“It was vital to me as a dispatcher to know where an officer was if all hell broke loose,” Crawford said. “Body cameras have the same issues, as officers feel everything they do is under scrutiny.”

San Diego’s Chief Zimmerman, however, believes the positives of body cameras far outweigh negatives.

“A body worn-camera can be a very valuable training tool for the officer,” Zimmerman said. “Currently, at my department, we are hiring many police officers, and having the ability to see the video will only enhance the training of our officers.”

Surveillance cameras and traffic cameras can also be useful in combating crimes. Yet desert cities are lagging behind when it comes to adopting this technology as well.

David Hermann, the public information officer at the city of Palm Desert, confirmed there are no monitored traffic cameras on public streets in Palm Desert.

Mark Greenwood, Palm Desert’s director of public works, said the city does have a few traffic signals equipped with cameras that allow the signal to change more quickly based on the presence of vehicles. However, these low-resolution cameras do not record, and are not monitored. Palm Desert also has five portable, motion-detecting cameras that are meant to discourage vandalism and graffiti; they take still photos when they detect motion. However, when I spoke to Hermann in February, he said none of the cameras were deployed.

Palm Springs police dispatchers have the ability to monitor 11 cameras, mostly in the downtown area. The video from these cameras, according to Sgt. Reed, is recorded and retained for a period of one year. Palm Springs has 80 intersections with signals.

In the near future, Palm Springs will proceed with the construction of a new Traffic Management Center and Citywide Traffic Signal Interconnect Project. According to Marcus Fuller, an assistant city manager and city engineer, the federally funded, $2 million-plus project will include numerous new traffic cameras, although it has not yet been determined if and how data will be stored.

Stay tuned.

8 replies on “Don’t Smile! You’re Not on Camera: Coachella Valley Law Enforcement Agencies Have Been Slow to Embrace Body-Cam Technology”

  1. Thank you Brane for emphasizing the importance of safety, whether it is Police or Public. Although I understand the concern that officers have of everything they do being recorded, I also have first hand experience of not knowing where an officer is in a crisis. Body cameras offer the benefit of safety for both. I encourage the Law Enforcement community to consider the benefits of body cameras and GPS for all.

  2. Yes, of course, the cameras should be worn on all police officers, not only in States, but worldwide, as a permanent eye witness, as well as a tool to protect everyone.

  3. It is the people who need to wear the camera!
    The ones who want to stop the crime!
    How about, all law abiding citizens, nation wide, start wearing body cameras to protect themselves from corrupt and abusive law enforcement.. One size fits all…

  4. Interesting article. I remembered reading somewhere that some jurisdictions are looking into getting rid of their body cameras, not because of privacy issues, but because a section of the Freedom of Information Act requires that municipalities provide copies of any video requested, and the sheer cost of complying with the requests, some of which are filed to harass and overwhelm rather than to provide legitimate evidence of a specific activity or event, are forcing some cities to reconsider. I did a search and found an article in the HOMELAND SECURITY NEWSWIRE. Here’s the introduction which appears under the headline, “Law-enforcement technology: Washington State police overwhelmed by public requests for dash- and body-cam footage” (Published 27 November 2014): “Police departments in Washington State are reviewing their dash- and body-cam programs as they see significant increase in public requests for video footage under the state’s Public Records Act, which puts no limit on the number of records which may be requested nor requires that the person requesting records have any connection to the information being requested.” Whether you think these cameras are a good or bad thing, it looks like FIA requests could shut these programs down for budgetary reasons. Here’s a link to the full article:

  5. Excellent, thought provoking article. The writer did a great job to present the facts, and get the CV community talking about body cameras.

    It is time. We have the technology and we can no longer afford to not have citizens and officers protected.

    The Wall Street Journal even had an article on police cams on August 15, 2014 and indicated, “In the Southern California city of Rialto, the number of citizen complaints against police dropped from 24 to 3 in the first year the patrol officers began wearing cameras in 2012. Use-of-force incidents plummeted from 61 to 25 during the same period.”

    Come on Palm Springs, and Coachella Valley, let’s be leaders with this tool for officer and citizen safety. This is a win-win venture for the entire community. I hope our politicians and police leaders are listening!

  6. Police cameras are an erosion of American liberties. I commend Coachella Valley law enforcement agencies hesitation on adopting or spending money on police cams. Both the ACLU and DOJ white papers urge caution in police cam adoption.

    CV residents should applaud hesitant police cam policies . Keep YOUR cameras ready to capture bad behavior and keep the police in check.

  7. The fatal LA police shooting on skid row will test police cam use. Of course, cameras can be blocked, turned off, images edited and claimed not to worked. Just as in Russia’s Boris Nemtsov’s assassination where public surveillance cameras are claimed to show nothing.

    Why do we need police cameras? American police used to be viewed as friendly and helpful, but the “Mayberry” image has been replaced with police donning militarized gear carrying assault rifles and grenade launchers as they ride around in armored vehicles acting as the citizen’s enemy. Often new technology or military surplus become high tech “toys” with little regard to implications or violations of our country’s founding principles.

    Unfortunately, the “911” attacks escalated psychological fear mongering and citizen surveillance; diverting DOJ funds to fight terrorism instead of civil rights violations. The Ferguson police shooting and militarized police response deepen citizen distrust. Pentagon program 1033 and a capitalistic cabal have contributed police forces that mentally and physically try to dominate American citizens, violating our civil liberties and privacy. Where does it end?

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