FRESNO – The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office (FSO) recently rolled out a new piece of equipment – the office’s first batch of body-worn cameras.
During the week of Jan. 22, FSO’s Training Unit deployed the 56 cameras to deputies and sergeants on patrol and who are assigned to specialty assignments, including the Civil Unit, Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium and the Adult Compliance Team.
In October 2022, FSO secured a $430,000 grant to purchase 215 Axon Body 3 cameras. The total cost for the cameras was approximately $3 million, which covered hardware, software, licensing, storage, maintenance, training and field deployment.
According to a FSO press release, the cameras produce high-definition video, audio, and can transcribe conversations. FSO Public Information Tony Botti said the cameras “will allow for greater deputy safety, public transparency and improve investigative work.”
FSO’s goal is to have all cameras deployed by the end of the year.
WIDELY USED, BUT WIDELY EFFECTIVE?
According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 80% of large police departments use body cameras. The report stated nearly half of all sheriffs’ offices and 60% of local police departments use the equipment.
The report stated the reasons why police and sheriffs acquired the cameras echo those of FSO, which are to: improve officer safety, increase evidence, reduce civilian complaints and reduce agency liability.
According to the BJS study, research does conclusively support that body cameras are effective in achieving those aims. A comprehensive review of 70 studies involving body cameras, the majority of the studies found that cameras “showed no consistent or no statistically significant effects.” The research was based on data pulled from various officer interactions, including use of force, assaults on officers, officer-initiated calls for service, arrests, traffic stops and tickets and field interviews.
BJS cited another study that examined the findings from evaluations of 10 programs that involved body cameras. Researchers who studied the evaluations looked at a range of outcomes from events, including use of force, citizen complaints, arrests and assaults on officers. Researchers found that four of the 10 programs evaluated to have zero or limited effects, and even negative effects.
DECREASE IN COMPLAINTS
There is no consensus among researchers who have studied body cameras and how effective they are in assisting police officers do their jobs. The research cited by BJS would indicate body cameras have minimal impact. But a 12-month study involving the Rialto Police Department reached different conclusions.
Over 12 months, every Rialto Police officer on patrol wore body cameras – cameras were the sole new addition to the officers’ routine. The study found that wearing cameras resulted in dramatic reduction in use-of-force and other complaints filed against the officers.
However, the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA) published the following caveat: It noted that the behavioral dynamics that may explain the decrease in complaints are not clear. CPOA noted that the decline in complaints may be due to either improved citizen behavior, improved police behavior, or a combination of the two. A more pragmatic explanation may be that citizens are less likely to file frivolous complaints about officers who are wearing body cameras.
In 2016, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office acquired body cameras, making it the first department in Tulare County to use cameras. Local police departments that use cameras include Parlier, Reedley and Sanger.