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By Breeana Greenberg

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is expected to fully roll out its body-worn camera system by July, according to OCSD Director of Public Affairs and Community Engagement Carrie Braun.

Dana Point Police Services, the last patrol station to get its body-worn cameras online, launched its system on May 31 following a weekslong implementation delay. The postponement, Dana Point Police Chief Lt. Kirsten Monteleone explained, was the result of connectivity issues.

The rollout consists of “over 1,000 body-worn cameras throughout (OCSD’s) 13 contract cities, unincorporated areas, Transit Police Services, Harbor Patrol, and John Wayne Airport Police Services,” Braun said in an email.

The cameras’ purpose—part of a $12.7 million contract that the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved in July 2021—is to capture all interactions between OCSD department members and the public, as well as interviews with suspects and victims.

“I just wanted to say why this is so important,” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said during the July 27, 2021 Supervisor meeting. “First of all, it helps the sheriff’s department determine which cases it’s going to submit to district attorneys for prosecution. It helps my office determine which cases we’re going to file and what the appropriate disposition will be.”

Additionally, recorded footage can help public defenders determine whether to pursue fighting their case with the input of additional evidence, Spitzer continued. He also emphasized the value of having “real, live information telling you what happened in the field.”

The Orange County Board of Supervisors’ approval came after the conclusion of two pilot programs that helped OCSD determine “future storage and resource needs” to process the data recorded by body-worn cameras, according to the staff report.

According to OCSD’s website, the pilot program revealed “a favorable response during public interactions and report writings, easy methods to manage and locate videos and cloud sharing that reduces the time and costs associated with sharing evidence with other law enforcement entities.”

However, the program also revealed technological challenges such as upload speeds.

For Monteleone, who recognizes the program’s evidentiary benefits, she says the cameras’ purpose is “to capture everything that we see and things that we don’t see as well.”

“This is a fantastic tool, in my opinion,” she said. It’s also to promote accountability with the public. If you know that you’re being recorded, it’s not a bad thing.”

The cameras will be on “any time there is public contact, regardless,” Monteleone said.

“If (deputies are) on a call, if they do anything proactive, they do a car stop, it’s always on,” she said. “The only time it isn’t on is when they’re just by themselves, not on a call for service or doing any enforcement.”

OCSD personnel are expected to activate their body-worn cameras “prior to arriving at a call or initiating enforcement action and shall terminate once the Member has cleared their self from the call or the contact and/or the incident has concluded,” according to OCSD’s Policy 447 on Body-Worn Camera and In-Car Video Systems.

When cameras are turned off at the conclusion of an incident, personnel are expected to “verbally note the date, time and reason for the deactivation on the recording itself.”

Additionally, according to the policy, personnel are not to turn off their cameras if a citizen requests that they do so unless the circumstances require an exception, such as victim confidentiality or the safety of a confidential informant or citizen informant.

“There (are) some guidelines in regards to confidentiality,” Monteleone said. “It’s going to be a case-by-case situation.”

Footage recorded by body-worn cameras will be stored for a minimum of two years.

The public may request access to body-worn camera footage through a public records act submission and may visit the OCSD website for information on records requests.

San Clemente Police Service’s body-worn camera system was implemented in October 2021 as part of a phased deployment of the program across OCSD’s divisions.

The cameras have “been effective in assisting our deputies to accurately capture interactions with the public to promote accountability and enhance public trust,” Braun said.

Braun added that the cameras have been a useful tool to support deputies writing reports and providing testimony.

“The cameras also go beyond these purposes to enhance public trust by promoting accountability during police-public interactions,” Braun said. “In some cases, body camera videos may also provide a positive training opportunity to continuously improve the skills of deputies.”

However, Braun noted that the cameras should be considered as only one of many sources of data on an incident.

“While they are a beneficial tool, the cameras provide only a limited view of any incident or encounter,” Braun said. “The videos should be considered as another point of reference alongside witness and victim statements, interviews, forensics, and any other applicable evidence or documentation.”

Monteleone said she is optimistic that the body-worn cameras will be a helpful tool for her deputies.

“I think, going down the road when we’re prosecuting these crimes—the camera doesn’t lie. I think that it’s really going to be a helpful tool down the road,” Monteleone said. “Once we start using it more, like I said—it’s only been a couple weeks—but it’s going to be invaluable, and I think it’s going to actually help some of our crimes down the road get solved.”

Breeana Greenberg

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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