CALIFORNIA CITY — California City Police Department will receive new body camera equipment more than four years after purchasing subpar equipment following a unanimous vote by the city council on Dec. 22.
According to Police Chief Jon Walker, the city purchased a system in July 2015 from a company called “Body Cams by Retired Cops.” During the past two years, the company's founder died and CCPD lost IT support from the company.
“They (the cameras) were very underrated, they were very bad cameras and we've had trouble with them ever since,” Walker said.
Walker called the body cameras necessary due to the climate in modern law enforcement nationwide.
“This is not a luxury, this is an absolute need,” Walker said. “For us not to have it, we will be way behind the curve ball.”
Newer body camera equipment, he added, keeps CCPD and its officers “legitimate” when it comes to police complaints.
“We've already negated several complaints because we've had them (officers) on body-worn cameras,” Walker said. “We're able to dispel in some of these complaints.”
He added it also keeps CCPD honest by also pointing out flaws and errors in procedure.
In a report prepared by Lt. Jesse Hightower, it was noted the loss of body cameras “would be devastating to the District Attorney, California City Police Department management, the officers who wear them and the citizens we serve.”
Hightower's report added that five years ago the city decided on cost over quality/reputation.
We are now regretting that decision as I am here once again asking for funding,” Hightower stated in his report. “Given the current climate of law enforcement, it is my opinion that going without body worn cameras is not an option. I can personally tell you that many citizen complaints have been unfounded just by watching the body cam footage, in turn saving the City money on frivolous lawsuits.”
Walker stressed that rather than piece milling an order, purchasing all cameras at once will benefit the police department as it seeks to add more police officers over five years. For the time being, the new cameras would be assigned to the 13 officers currently employed in addition to CCPD's jailer.
Mayor Jeanie O'Laughlin asked about the amount, calling 20 “an odd number.”
“Wouldn't it be better to order 14 now and then if we need more a year from now, get new ones?” O'Laughlin asked.
Another flaw in CCPD's current system relates to cameras not being consistent with its designated user.
“This is causing us major problems in court,” Walker said. “In other words, if I go out and have an incident and they pull my body cam for that day, what will happen we're having is they might pull the body cam for another officer on that day. So the consistency and evidence at that point becomes a problem.”
CCPD received two bids, one from Digital Ally and a second from Watch Guard. Digital Ally, he noted, comes with the advantage of longer battery life, among other pros.
Watch Guard on average only has a 10-hour battery life, something Walker noted as a serious con. Watch Guard also charges for optional redaction software, something that comes free from Digital Ally.
“If you look at the Watch Guard, it’s only got a 10- to 12-hour battery life,” he said. “We work at least 12-hour shifts, that’s a problem.”
Digital Ally also provides battery replacements after 18 months and a free body cam refreshment after 36 months.
One downside Walker noted about the Digital Ally was a poor uniform clip for the camera.
“We will have to find a way to beef that up because that can be a problem, especially during an altercation,” Walker said. “If it falls off during the middle of an altercation, that can be a problem.”
Walker said while his personal preference favored Watch Guard, the additional cost for features brought the bid to more than $73,500.
“With Ally, we have many more capabilities, so it's not an inferior system by any means,” Walker said. “We think it's the best bang for our buck at sixty grand.”