Make cameras a top priority

Chico Police Department and city should focus on equipping every officer with a body camera

This newspaper is troubled by the fact that two people have been shot and killed by Chico police officers in the past four months and that none of the officers involved in the fatal encounters was equipped with body cameras.

The first fatality was that of Desmond Phillips, who reportedly was in the midst of a mental health breakdown when he was shot more than a dozen times back in March. Phillips’ father, who was there when his son was killed, tells a different story of events than those officers, who have since been cleared of wrongdoing by county investigators.

What’s maddening is that CPD had cameras in its possession when Phillips was killed. Deployment was held up due to technical issues. Last week, however, we learned that a roll-out of that equipment in April did not apply to every officer—that 10 of them don’t have the devices (see “Deployment delayed,” Newslines, July 27). One is the sergeant who shot and killed a burglary suspect downtown last week.

In our minds, body cameras ought to be standard pieces of equipment for every law enforcement agency. We came to that conclusion after footage from a police car dash camera showed Patrick Feaster, then a Paradise police officer, shooting a suspected drunken driver. Feaster failed to turn on his body cam in that instance, but footage from the two officers who arrived shortly thereafter revealed Feaster’s frantic search for his bullet casing and eventual admission of firing his weapon. That footage led to Feaster’s manslaughter conviction.

Cost ostensibly is the barrier to outfitting every Chico police officer, but we’re not buying that. Consider the current push by the department to further bolster its roster by supplanting the city’s small stable of park rangers with police academy-trained “sworn rangers,” an endeavor that will come with a hefty price tag.

Our view: CPD has not made body cameras a top priority. That needs to change.