REPORTING FROM EAST COUNTY — Officer-worn body cameras are coming to the La Mesa Police Department.
The department expects to start trying three brands of cameras by the end of next month.
Cities across the nation are outfitting officers with cameras in an effort to be more accountable.
"There are many reasons we're looking into (body-worn cameras)," said La Mesa Police Chief Walt Vasquez. "It's obviously about maintaining public trust and for gathering evidence at the scene, capturing police and public encounters."
Vasquez says use of the cameras is fully supported by officers and their union, the La Mesa Police Officers Association.
El Cajon rolled out 87 chest-mounted cameras in 2016 after officers took part in a two-hour, department-wide training class and a 30-minute training session in smaller groups. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department started a program for body-worn cameras last year.
The La Mesa City Council approved spending $83,830 in June 2017 for the cameras, but some infrastructure challenges delayed the program.
After budgeting for the cameras, the city found out its internet connection lacked proper bandwidth for the high-security video files associated with the cameras.
Finance Director Sarah Waller-Bullock said those computer issues have been worked out, but there are a few other infrastructure upgrades and cloud storage details that are being looked at. She said there will be more costs involved with that, about an additional $50,000, that the City Council will have to approve in the near future.
"We don't want to rush it, we want to make sure that it's all working," Waller-Bullock said.
Vasquez said testing of the devices should come toward the end of May.
The Taser-brand of body-worn cameras called "Axon" have been a hit in neighboring El Cajon, according to Police Chief Jeff Davis.
Typically, El Cajon Police Department policy requires officers to turn on the cameras before interactions with citizens. The camera's technology stores 30 seconds of pre-recorded footage without audio the moment the camera is activated — sound is recorded once the camera is turned on. Footage captured by officers' cameras can become evidence during investigations.
"Overall, the officers are feeling more comfortable with cameras," Davis said. "It has taken awhile to get used to. It's a whole new structure, infrastructure and costs associated with it. We think it's worth it. Overall, we're pleased with the product, pleased with what we're seeing. I don't want to say it's foolproof, but it's one of the easier programs to jump into."
Davis said a turning point for him came during a department training day when officers were being tested and evaluated.
"One of the officers raised his hand and asked, 'When are we getting our cameras,' " Davis recounted. "That was even before we had implemented the cameras. The officers had already accepted it and were ready. The younger crew is embracing it."
Other police departments in the county that have adopted the technology include the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Escondido, Carlsbad and Coronado.