SELMA – After an 18-month implementation process, the Selma Police Department is ready to deploy body cameras to its officers.
Selma Police Chief Rudy Alcaraz provided a presentation on the new body-worn cameras at the Selma City Council meeting on Jan. 16 and said that all officers will begin using the body cameras on Jan. 24. The cameras come from technology company Axon, which builds its products specifically for law enforcement, and will be the newest Axon Body 4 model.
“The acquisition of these emerging technologies will be a huge part of the future for law enforcement for many reasons, but the most clear are the transparency, the accountability (and) the evidentiary proof,” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz said the long implementation process was beneficial because it allowed the police department to have the most up-to-date equipment that will be compatible with future technology that Axon is working on.
Further, the Axon cameras connect with the department’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, which will help officers with report writing and keep track of exact timestamps and connecting footage to a specific response for service.
The department finalized the contract with Axon in October 2023. According to a report provided to city council at that time, the department entered in a five-year contract for services with a projected cost of just under $350,000. The cost each year will be just under $70,000.
In the 2023-24 city budget, the city had allocated $50,000 from the Professional Services fund for body-worn camera equipment to be implemented, and then the city used an additional $19,000 from the Measure S fund for police and fire services.
Council member John Trujillo commended the city council for its foresight in allocating money for this equipment into the budget, because he said that at the time they were waiting to hear if the city received grant money for these cameras, but they ended up not getting an award.
“I commend the council because the foresight was looked at and we accomplished it,” Trujillo said. “We didn’t get the grant, but still got the body cams, so thank you guys.”
Benefits of Axon cameras
The cameras will automatically turn on in certain situations, such as when the police officers activate their Code 3 emergency response lights in their vehicles and when they deploy their tasers. Otherwise, officers will have to turn on the cameras themselves, which will be worked into training to ensure that that procedure is followed.
Alcaraz said management and supervisory personnel will be trained in how to use the equipment by Axon representatives on Jan. 23, and they will, in turn, train the rest of the police force. The proper use of the equipment has already been worked into the department’s policies and procedures.
“We are going to give our people 60 to 90 days to learn how to use this information, because like anything, you’ve got to remember to push the button, turn it off, download, things like that, before we start really getting heavy handed with documenting memos, letters and things of that nature,” Alcaraz said.
The Axon Body 4 cameras are cloud-based, meaning the footage is automatically uploaded to Axon’s servers and stored on a website called evidence.com, which has a unique, secured domain for every agency that uses it to allow officers to access their information.
In addition to providing valuable footage of officer procedure, conduct and interactions with the public, the use of these specific body cameras will save server space for the police department and help the department be more efficient in its work with the Fresno County District Attorney’s (DA) office.
Currently, Alcaraz said that when transferring video footage to the DA’s office for a court case, officers have to download the footage onto a hard drive and drive it to the DA’s office in Fresno. Now — because the DA also uses evidence.com — they will be able to automatically share footage and other important case information.
“You know, back in the day our word was gospel, 25 to 30 years ago. Now, everybody wants to see a video,” Alcaraz said. “So this is a huge, huge step towards being able to provide that to our prosecutors. Accountability, increase in criminal convictions and reduction of liability. I think those are all the most transparent reasons why we use body-worn cameras today and into the future for law enforcement.”
One resident brought up concerns about the footage being hacked, but City Manager Fernando Santillan countered that the footage could be hacked if it’s being held by a third-party or by the police department, and pointed out that Axon has the capability to better protect the data than the police department does.
The implementation process included consultation with the Selma Police Officers Association and other area law enforcement agencies that already use Axon to gather input on the best technology to use, Alcaraz said.
Body-worn cameras have been used by the Fresno Police Department, Clovis Police Department and Reedley Police Department for many years already.
“I just want to say this is very positive for the city of Selma, as many citizens — including myself — have been screaming for body cams for many, many, many years,” resident Rose Robertson said. “It’s nice to know that the Selma Police Department is gonna be right in there with the neighboring cities that have body cams.”