Body-worn cameras help, hurt law enforcement in Menlo Park | News | Almanac Online |


Body-worn cameras help, hurt law enforcement in Menlo Park


The fatal shooting by three Menlo Park police officers of a burglary suspect who reportedly drew a gun during a foot pursuit on Nov. 11 has shed light on how the realities of implementing new technology such as body-worn cameras can backfire.

The Menlo Park Police Department bought 40 VIEVU cameras, at about $1,000 each, in late 2013. The department's protocol, which was developed with input from its citizens advisory group, states that all on-duty contact with citizens shall be recorded.

Residents then expected that the officers' cameras would have video footage of the shooting. But that isn't the case: Only two of the three officers were wearing the devices. One camera was turned on immediately after the shooting, and one appears to have been left off, according to the District Attorney's Office and Police Chief Bob Jonsen.

One officer, Sgt. Jaime Romero, did activate his camera right after the incident, the police chief said, "probably as quickly as he physically could."

The third officer's camera had been turned in for repairs at the start of his shift. The cameras are mailed back to the manufacturer in Seattle for repairs, Chief Jonsen said. The department had not initially ordered backup units, but has now bought 10 additional cameras.

Menlo Park's policy does include an exemption for urgent, dangerous situations: "At no time is a member expected to jeopardize his/her safety in order to activate a recorder or change the recording media. However, the recorder should be activated in all situations as soon as practical."

Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller suggested that how the camera activation policy works under practical conditions may need a look.

"If you're going to have the cameras, there needs to be a consistent policy that they're just on, you leave them on. You never know when a life-threatening situation, or any situation, is going to happen. You don't want the first thing you have to think about to be oh, I have to turn my camera on," Mr. Mueller said. "If I were in that situation, turning it on would probably fall low on the list."

Stressing that as far as the cameras go, it's now an issue of policy refinement and training, he said, "I have every confidence that the chief will address it well."

Technological limitations also come into play: While the officers work 12-hour shifts, the current camera batteries last only about three hours. Chief Jonsen said that his department is looking into buying batteries with longer capacity. On the plus side, technology has made storing the videos on a server, which used to be a major cost for police departments, relatively inexpensive, according to Menlo Park.

Atherton started using VIEVU body-worn cameras about seven years ago. Its policy states that officers "should activate the recorder during all enforcement stops and field interrogation situations and any other time that the (officer) reasonably believes that a recording of an on-duty contact may be useful."

Lt. Joe Wade of the Atherton police department said the cameras are a way to get an accurate view of what's going on, and have their benefits. "We don't get a ton of complaints, but I can tell you that we are able to exonerate quite a few complaints that we do get by using the cameras, instead of it turning into a 'he said, she said' kind of thing."

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office does not use the cameras, according to spokesperson Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt.

Best practices

The U.S. Department of Justice researched the implementation of body-worn cameras by 63 agencies across the United States, and published the findings in a report released this year. It emphasizes how important the decision is about what types of encounters to record:

"This decision will have important consequences in terms of privacy, transparency, and police-community relationships. Although recording policies should provide officers with guidance, it is critical that policies also give officers a certain amount of discretion concerning when to turn their cameras on or off. This discretion is important because it recognizes that officers are professionals and because it allows flexibility in situations in which drawing a legalistic 'bright line' rule is impossible."

Very few departments have chosen to require recording of all public encounters, according to the DOJ report.

Former judge comments

Independent San Jose police auditor and retired judge LaDoris Cordell has a different take.

"My view is that officers should have no discretion. A good protocol should define when the camera goes on and off. If it's a good protocol, you put the camera on any time you encounter anybody in the public -- anybody. When you're done, turn it off," she said. "There should be no discretion. That's my view."

And a use protocol, developed with full transparency and public input, should be created before any officer steps into the field wearing a camera, she said. Batteries with longer lifespans are available, as are units with more memory capacity, making the technological drawbacks not a sufficient reason to limit when the cameras should be activated, she noted.

She has been fighting for three years to bring body-worn cameras to San Jose police officers, who have been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the city over working conditions. Earlier this year, that department agreed to a 90-day pilot program to test the cameras, but the victory was short-lived: The chief suspended the program about a month ago in order to confer with the police officers union, Ms. Cordell said.

"Every police department in this country should have them," she said. "Every single one. That's my firm belief."

Reluctance on the part of departments to adopt the cameras is nothing new, despite statistics showing that using them tends to result in a significant drop in the number of citizen complaints, including over excess force.

The DOJ report found that 75 percent of the 254 agencies it surveyed weren't using cameras as of July 2013. The opposition may arise from both the officers as well as city management: Seattle, for example, may see its plans to deploy the tools derailed by worries over how to handle public records requests for the videos, according to news reports.

Other law enforcement concerns include possible damage to information gathering by sources reluctant to be recorded, the amount of time needed at the end of shifts to download the videos and enter the identifying tags to enable a search of the database, and, as Menlo Park has seen in the wake of the shooting, managing community expectations of what will be recorded and when.

Chief Jonsen praised his department for voluntarily adopting the cameras and putting them to use while on duty. "They have been exceptional about activating them."

Habits, however, don't develop overnight. Officers need time to make reaching for the camera second nature, particularly if their dominant hands are moving to a weapon, he noted.

Local practices

The Menlo Park Police Department is reviewing its camera policy, among others, in the wake of the shooting.

"We've been talking a lot about this internally," Chief Jonsen said. "We would love for the community to accept that we're trying our best to be transparent."

The DOJ report highlights what happens when camera implementation falls short: "If police departments deploy body-worn cameras without well-designed policies, practices, and training of officers to back up the initiative, departments will inevitably find themselves caught in difficult public battles that will undermine public trust in the police rather than increasing community support for the police."

Menlo Park's policy does contain some of the clauses recommended by the DOJ report, including those involving turning the cameras on for on-duty contact; recording retention time; and who can review the recordings within the department. Still, the DOJ study suggests there's room for improvement.

The report notes that "expectations can undermine an officer's credibility if questions arise about an incident that was not captured on video. This is one reason why many agencies require officers to articulate, either on camera or in writing, their reasons for turning a camera off in the middle of an incident or for not turning it on in the first place."

But Menlo Park's policy doesn't require that an officer document why the camera wasn't on. The department's protocol also has no description of the penalties for failing to comply with the recording policy.

"It is something we will bring into the discussion," Chief Jonsen said.

Another issue is how long the police department will retain the recordings. The DOJ report found an average 60- to 90-day retention time in a survey of 254 departments. Menlo Park's policy requires that even non-evidentiary videos be kept for two and a half years. Atherton stores recordings for two years.

Menlo Park Police Cmdr. Dave Bertini said the department keeps the recordings that long because of the statute of limitations for lawsuits.

"We wanted to make sure there's no way someone is going to come sue us and we had already destroyed the evidence," he said. It's the same length of time the department uses for digital audio recordings.

He noted that the cameras benefit the officers as much as everyone else. "It protects us -- 99.9 percent of the time, it shows that we're doing the right thing. That other 0.1 percent, when you screw up, you should be held accountable."

Mr. Mueller, who had led the effort to formulate a privacy ordinance for the city's use of automated license plate readers, questioned the retention policy.

"I'm going to want to review the data retention policy with the chief. It's going to have to be explained to me why the recordings need to be kept for that long," Mr. Mueller said, adding that he hadn't known that the videos were stored for so long.

In the case of license plate readers, the council on a 3-2 vote adopted a law that requires deletion of that data after six months, despite the police department's support for keeping the information for a year.

Cmdr. Bertini said the department is not open to discussing a shorter retention time for camera video. "I think the departments with 60 to 90 days (retention) are doing themselves a disservice."

Given the advent of even newer law enforcement technology, such as drones, Mr. Mueller wants to start looking at an omnibus policy or ordinance to govern privacy concerns. "Technology is coming, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it's prudent to continue looking at these issues."

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1 person likes this
Posted by David B
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 3, 2014 at 1:07 pm

A cautious thumbs-up to Chief Jonson and the PD for what appears to be taking the right attitude on this. Many of us who would be inclined to support our police, have been poisoned by the cases of outrageous behavior that come to light too often around the country. For now I accept the Chief at his word that the failure to record this incident was unintentional and perhaps caused by learning curve issues.... but they do need to work hard to get this right, to keep their credibility with us.

1 person likes this
Posted by too busy driving to activate?
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Dec 3, 2014 at 1:24 pm

"was unintentional and perhaps caused by learning curve issues"

Learn to slide a button is too difficult?

Officer's in a car, gets a call about a suspicious person (no mention of weapons or violent behavior) and he somehow "forgets" to activate the camera before exiting the car, or the drive to the call? Maybe his hands were too busy making a cell phone call while driving.

That's not training. That's not stupidity (one assumes). That's disregard for the job.

1 person likes this
Posted by Lesson learned
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm

It's pretty obvious from reading the comments by law enforcement officials from Atherton and Menlo Park that they view the cameras as a tool to help them when unfounded complaints are made. The cameras can prove no misconduct occurred. What about the other direction? As a tool to protect the public from police misconduct and unjustified uses of force? (Let's not debate whether this happens all the time or in very rare instances; no one can deny it's worthy of being prevented). Retired judge Cordell recognizes for the public to benefit from these cameras, the policy must mandate they be used all the time, and not just when a police officer wants to protect himself. Seems like obvious common sense.

5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 3, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"That's not training. That's not stupidity (one assumes). That's disregard for the job."

And you know this because you've actually done the job?

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


they said it's not just to protect the officer. "It protects us -- 99.9 percent of the time, it shows that we're doing the right thing. That other 0.1 percent, when you screw up, you should be held accountable."

when you screw up, you should be held accountable."

4 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

We have so many experts on the web that know absolutely very thing about law enforcement. Try doing the job. I will give you a hint, it is not as easy as our experts think it is. Menlo Voter is right. by the way, our expects know what happens when one assumes.

1 person likes this
Posted by NoExcuses
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Body cams should be worn and fully-activated for the duration of an officer's 12-hour shift (breaks excepted).

1. Spares should be available for cameras in need of repair. Officers do not depart the station with malfunctioning revolvers. There is no reason for them to do so with non-working cameras. In fact, a spare camera could reasonably be stored in every police vehicle.

2. One excuse for the absence of cameras is that they must be round-tripped to Seattle for repair. If the vendor cannot arrange for local same-day repair, they should ship replacements via overnight express, a service that is routinely available for cellphones.

3. I am sure that our native son, Nick Woodman, and his GoPro company can build a small, lightweight, durable camera that records continuously for 12 hours. The company's most expensive models currently cost about $400 - probably less than a day's pay for an officer.

4. If battery life for continuous 12-hour recording is currently an insurmountable technical hurdle, or might cause an officer to carry too much battery weight, spare batteries can be carried in police cars and switched out during shifts.

We do not accept lame excuses from Apple, Samsung, LG, Nikon, Cannon, and other private sector tech companies which make imaging equipment, nor do we support non-tech companies that cannot successfully deploy important technology in their own day-to-day operations.

Only in the government sector do we accept the lame excuses proffered by the law enforcement agencies quoted above in the Almanac article. Let's simply give officers the tools to do their jobs.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 3, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Agents of the state that have the potential to use deadly force against the public should ALWAYS have a camera recording while on duty.

No amount of dancing around or providing excuses please.

1 person likes this
Posted by acomfort
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm

David B. wrote: "Many of us who would be inclined to support our police, have been poisoned by the cases of outrageous behavior that come to light too often around the country."

The media stories point to where and how the police were trained as a cause of the outrageous behavior.
So, the question is, where are the Menlo Park police getting their training? We should know, it may make a difference. in the confidence of the MP public in their police force.

2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There has also been considerable discussion on what policies should govern the use of BWCs. Two very helpful reports on this are:

Web Link

Clearly when and how to use these cameras is not a simple issue and the report is well worth reading if you are interested in a fact based discussion.

Here are two interesting excerpts:

"Legitimacy in policing is built on trust. And the notion of video-recording every interac- tion in a very tense situation would simply not be a practical operational way of deliv- ering policing. In fact, it would exacerbate all sorts of problems. In the United Kingdom, we're also subject to human rights legislation, laws on right to privacy, right to family life, and I'm sure you have similar statutes. It's far more complicated than a blanket policy of 'every interaction is filmed.' I think that's far too simplistic. We have to give our officers some discretion. We cannot have a policy that limits discretion of officers to a point where using these devices has a negative effect on community-police relations."
– Sir Hugh Orde, President, Association of Chief Police Officers (UK)
"In Daytona Beach, Chief Chitwood requested that the officers with a history of complaints be among the first to be outfitted with body-worn cameras . Although he found that usually the videos demonstrated that "the majority of the officers are hardworking, good police," he has also seen how body-worn cameras can help an agency address discipline problems . Chitwood said:
We had an officer who had several questionable incidents in the past, so we outfitted him with a camera . Right in the middle of an encounter with a subject, the camera goes blank, and then it comes back on when the incident is over . He said that the camera malfunctioned, so we gave him another one . A week later he goes to arrest a woman, and again, the camera goes blank just before the encounter . He claimed again that the camera had malfunctioned . So we conducted a forensic review of the camera, which determined that the officer had intentionally hit the power button right before the camera shut off . Our policy says that if you turn it off, you're done . He resigned the next day ."

The second article is:

Web Link

Here is the current MPPD policy on BWC's:

Web Link

This document is strangely copy protected and you cannot cut and paste from it.

Frankly, I think the generic MPPD policy ( written by Lexipol) leaves a lot to be desired. For example, it mandates that all citizen contact recordings be saved for 2 1/2 years. And it has no obvious exception for interrogation of confidential informants.

3 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 3, 2014 at 10:16 pm

It all boils down to trust and respect by the police and the citizens they serve in their community.

Let's put one more piece of equipment on our officers. Has anyone on this blog ever wore a police officer gun belt with all the equipment that is required for their safety and assignment. Pretty heavy!
Let's issue them a military ballistic vest and military helmet. Maybe this would be in order, many pockets, a lot of places to put things, safer, and a better distribution of weight. But, would this issued pieces of equipment offend our citizens they serve in their community?

This would include a recording device that the battery life would be about 3 hours...Does anyone know of one that has a longer battery life than 3 hours, currently in use today? I do not know of any devices on the market.
How about citizens wearing cameras..that might work for each..police and citizens will each have recordings to compare? What will be the storage time required for the citizen to keep these recordings? The police have state requirements for the retention of these records and recordings.

This topic has gotten way out of control, way out of the common sense measure.
Police officers are people. They come from a pool of a cross section of our society. Are there dishonest people in our society: yes…. Are there good and honest people in our society...yes

Police officers undertake a series of testing--screening to become an officer. A background check, that includes some type of polygraph, a medical exam, personal interviews of references, credit check, psychological testing, general aptitude/knowledge, fingerprinting, which includes a verification of all information on their application. Are there any suggestions to make this process better?

How many companies in the private sector have that screening process. Not many..

We need to make our local governmental bodies responsible. Here are some considerations for review.
Do we trust who our law enforcement managers hire as police officers?
Every law enforcement manager should be held personally responsible for their officers.
Every Law enforcement manager should make sure each of their officers have the tools needed to perform their duties in a professional and safe manner. This includes training…the community policing concept as outlined by the IACP. The police need to be an important shareholder in the community they patrol.
Elected officials should be held personally responsible for the individual they hire to manage their county or city that oversees their law enforcement function.

2 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 3, 2014 at 10:43 pm

The idea of cameras is on the face of it a good one. However, if I knew the officer's camera was on constantly, I might hesitate to speak to him or her. I have little trust in the confidentiality of police records and would have even less in a video recording.

One more comment. I'm disappointed at the thinly veiled antipathy toward the police that is evident in some of the above comments. For a change, how about some kudos for the good work the police do. The constant brick-bats must be demoralizing.

1 person likes this
Posted by Lesson learned
a resident of another community
on Dec 3, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Enough says "It all boils down to trust and respect by the police and the citizens they serve in their community."

I don't mean to be rude, but that's just pablum. For example, police don't trust citizens, nor are they supposed to. If there were this trust, there wouldn't be a need for police.

You can choose to trust police, and will or will not primarily based on your own experience with them. Recordings are very effective at preventing police misconduct and the attendant citizen's complaints that follow. This has been proven. If the reaction is "stuff it, you just have to trust them," my response is the notion governmental authority cannot be questioned is not what this country is supposed to be about.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 4, 2014 at 6:58 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"Recordings are very effective at preventing police misconduct and the attendant citizen's complaints that follow. This has been proven."

Do you have something factual to back this up? A link perhaps?

It is a chicken and egg thing. Do body worn cameras reduce complaints because officers don't commit misconduct when they're wearing them or are there fewer complaints because the people that would have made complaints without the video not do so because they know their misconduct has been recorded? That person can't cast aspersions in a "he said, he said" situation.

A long time ago when the police started using dash cams and other recording devices. Before the public really was aware of them, recordings often shut down citizen complaints because when someone came in to complain and the video was played and it showed that citizen being way out of line, it was the end of the complaint.

Menlo Park officers have welcomed the use of body worn cameras. The vast majority of them are good hard working cops that do a good job. Do the cameras sometimes not get turned on? Sure. It's a new piece of equipment. It's one more thing an officer has to build into his actions when he is dispatched and arrives at a call or initiates a citizen contact. Given time it will become second nature.

Battery life is a problem. MPPD management did not think things through as far as replacement batteries and back up units. It looks like it is being discussed now and they have already ordered back up cameras.

The people that want to pillory officers because they didn't turn on their cameras ought to go on a ride along. Until you see what is involved in doing the job you are speaking from a place of ignorance.

2 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2014 at 8:15 am

I find it ironic that people are still so worked up over this since it's been brought about by a criminal with a scary gun who allegedly used it in the middle of the day carrying out a stupid crime. Some of the officers involved having had complaints filed against them doesn't mean that they and the public weren't in danger when stupid criminal made a deadly, desperate move when confronted.

I'm relieved that the officer who shot the bad guy has only the public notoriety of driving that kid home and angering the kid's mom. I'm glad the bad guy is dead because the other options from the scenario HE CREATED are terrifying to contemplate. We all could be posting our condolences on an officer's injury or death, or expressing our sadness at the tragedy of a civilian getting injured or killed by the desperate, selfish criminal.

Isn't it nice to have the luxury of venting our spleens from the comfort of our pricey homes and from our (most likely, I'm betting) white privilege perspectives?

I'll wait for the results of the investigations before criticizing these officers. I hope Menlo residents are at least grateful they haven't had a Benaderet or a Verbera lately amongst their officers.

4 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 4, 2014 at 8:25 am

Let's move on.....The DA of our county has the case. The police chief has cooperated with the investigation and was interviewed by the media. The feds would be looking around if there was some misconduct. Our police department is community involved ....a civilian advisory group. We are very lucky to have such an active dialog and communication between the police and the community. I thank you for what you do....

No I am not a police officer!

1 person likes this
Posted by Lesson learned
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2014 at 11:23 am

Menlo Voter, here is a link that you requested:

Web Link

No one on the threads I've read has stated all police are bad, etc. My position is that just some are, and since those bad apples have the potential to exact devastating harm on members of the public, there is nothing unreasonable about body cameras being required to protect the public. There is also a culture of all officers, good or bad, protecting the bad apples.

1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


thanks for the link. I'm not advocating officers not wear cameras. I think they should. My concern is that some on these boards would fire an officer for forgetting to turn on his or her camera. That is simply over the top. A better solution is provide batteries that will last a full shift or provide cameras that the batteries can be swapped out in and provide more batteries.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

What is needed is a culture of trust and transparency. Technology can provide tools like body cams but the much more important issue is how to create a culture wherein the police deserve and enjoy the trust and transparency of those whom they serve. That culture will not be created by starting with the assumptions that the police are the enemy or that there are no bad cops.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bad memories
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Glad the bad guy is dead?! Bad memories,
seriously, that's whack.

The criminal justice system doesn't allow for cops to execute the bad guys in this country.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 4, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The criminal justice system doesn't allow for cops to execute the bad guys in this country."

Exactly what protocol are you recommending for a police officer confronted by a suspect who pulls out a gun? Negotiation? Compromise?

Like this comment
Posted by cw
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 4, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Contrast these two statements in the story:

"Mr. Mueller, who had led the effort to formulate a privacy ordinance for the city's use of automated license plate readers, questioned the retention policy."

"Cmdr. Bertini said the department is not open to discussing a shorter retention time for camera video"

Now I recall how upset Bertini was when council, led by Mueller, wanted to make it a crime to misuse data the department collects. Bertini's manner was down right threatening. Now he's saying that a department policy is not open to discussion.

I think Bertini has forgotten that the police answer to the city manager who answers to the council. The police shouldn't be setting their own policy. It should always go through council. And if Bertini doesn't like having civilian control of the department, he should find new employment.

Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Bad memories - were you being deliberately obtuse about my statement, or you're truly obtuse about what I meant?

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