FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Fresno police officers will be equipped with body cameras, to protect officers and restore the public’s faith in law enforcement, the city police chief said.
Thanks to an anonymous donor who recently gave the department $500,000, 50 officers were equipped with the cameras on Tuesday, and more officers are expected to receive cameras each month until the money runs out.
Chief Jerry Dyer said that he hopes the cameras will help restore the public’s faith in police officers.
“We’ve seen across this country some of the civil unrest that has transpired. There has been an outcry for people to equip officers with body-worn cameras. But I really think people need to know the why. It really boils down to this: trust,” Dyer said.
Police officers are entrusted with enormous power, including the authority to take someone’s life if they believe their own life or the life of another person is in jeopardy, Dyer said.
“Unfortunately, what we have seen under the years is intense public scrutiny over incidents that have occurred in Ferguson and New York and in a number of other places. We’ve seen an erosion of that trust of law enforcement,” Dyer said. “Perhaps law enforcement’s word is no longer as valued as it once was. It is unfortunate, I believe, that we have gotten to this point in law enforcement where we have to prove the officer’s actions and the officer’s words, but that’s where we are today.”
The department began looking at body cameras three years ago and testing them. Last year, before the donation came in, the City Council approved five body cameras for officers on the city’s Homeless Task Force. The cameras have been a great success, Dyer said.
The $500,000 donation should buy about 400 body cameras, so that just about every officer who routinely deals with the public will wear a body camera while on duty, Dyer said.
On Tuesday, the first 50 cameras were given to officers in the city’s four patrol policing districts and to some traffic officers and tactical units. The department will buy 50 new cameras every month for the next six months, Dyer said.
“I thank God that this person has stepped forward,” Dyer said of the anonymous donor.
Each camera can record about 2½ hours of video during an officer’s shift. The body cameras will be turned on for traffic stops, serving of search warrants, or when dealing with a person who has mental health issues, Dyer said.
The cameras should “not only protect the rights of citizens but also protect the interests of our officers,” Dyer said.
The cameras will not be used when privacy issues are at stake, Dyer said, such as when an officer is interviewing a child who is the victim of sexual assault.
An independent police auditor and a retired judge who audited the department’s video policing system recommended the body cameras, Dyer said.
“We need to make sure we’re providing the community, the public, with the officer’s perspective, the officer’s view of what they’re seeing at the time they take action,” the police chief said.
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