GoPro cops: Sacramento police push body cameras for every officer working the streets

Most internal affairs investigations against officers were sustained on some level, report shows

When Sacramento police Chief Daniel Hahn arrived at a November 1 community gathering about armed robberies and home invasions, he greeted the crowd in uniform, wearing a black body camera noticeably strapped to his chest. It was an Axon Body 2—a new device for a new era. As of this week, every officer working the streets will be wearing one.

Hahn’s command staff made that clear on Monday to the Sacramento Community Police Commission, answering questions about newly released data on complaints against the department.

The complaint stats were put together by the Sacramento Office of Public Safety Accountability. Its director, Francine Tournour, told commissioners that between January 2016 and June 2017, internal affairs had fielded 317 allegations. The No. 1 type of allegation within that 18-month period involved a civilian or police officer accusing a specific officer of “neglect of duty.” Some 63 of the allegations involved neglect.

“A great example of neglect would be towing your vehicle and the officer didn’t leave you a tow form, or if we served a warrant on your house and didn’t leave the statutorily required paperwork,” said Deputy Chief Ken Bernard. “That would be a neglect of duty.”

The second most common allegation against police was “discourtesy,” ringing in at 49 individual complaints. The third highest complaint was classified as “improper tactics.”

Tournour said that 39 internal affairs investigations within that 18-month period are now complete. Of those probes, 34 were sustained—or found true on some level—and four were deemed “unfounded.” One of the investigations was flagged as “unsustained,” meaning its truth couldn’t be determined. Tournour added that the 34 “sustained” findings led to 15 officers being disciplined.

When commissioner Kiran Savage-Sangwan asked why more officers weren’t disciplined, Tournour explained that not all of the complaints merited that level of severity. “Sometimes it’s just training [the officer goes through], which isn’t considered being disciplined,” Tournour noted.

One statistic police commanders felt reflected well was the small number of use-of-force incidents in 2016. Of the 14,000 arrests its officers made that year, only 117 encounters involved force being applied. When those moments do happen, from now on, they’ll be recorded, said police Lt. Justin Risely.

Risely gave commissioners an overview of both in-car police cameras and the new generation of body-worn cameras officers have been issued. Risely said the in-car cameras activate themselves any time a rear door opens, emergency lights are triggered, the cab’s shotgun’s released, or the vehicle’s crash sensors go off. The body cameras, he explained, have a 12-hour battery life and feature a wireless sharing system with the district attorney’s office.

“It’s a hard three second hold to [manually] turn it off,” Risely said of the body cam. “The expectation is that if you’re out there doing enforcement or investigative activities, you’ll be using your camera.”

Bernard informed commissioners that, in the few months the program has been in place, he was aware of only one incident when an officer had intentionally not worn his body camera. Bernard said the issue with that officer was “being addressed through the process.”

A much bigger complication, Bernard observed, was that Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones had asked that city officers not activate their body cams inside the county jail, where Jones holds jurisdiction. Jones’ reasoning, the deputy chief said, is that the jail has its own network of cameras.

“Up until the doors, we’re using our cameras,” Bernard emphasized. “We have access to [the jail video footage], but it’s not subject to our [public] release policy. … It’s not subject to release like a Sac PD video would be.”

A few seconds later he added, “It’s not our issue.”