In an interview last weekend on CNN, Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent and Mayor Libby Schaaf weighed in on growing national demands for police to wear body cameras in the wake of incessant reports of police killings of Black men and women.
Under the watchful oversight of federal Judge Thelton Henderson, Oakland has been one of the earlier cities to require body camera for all officers. The department also has made it clear that officers who disable or turn off their camera during an incident will face serious discipline.
Chief Whent said the department’s use of body cameras has reduced use of force incidents by police by 70 percent and citizen complaints against police by 60 percent.
“Five years into the program, we’re still less than $1 million spent on it, but to see the kind of reduction in complaints and uses of force lawsuits, it probably is paying for itself,” Chief Whent told the CNN interviewers.
Said Mayor Schaaf, “Cities are continuing to struggle with this issue around technology. We have a lot of data, and it gives us an opportunity for a level of transparency, but it also has great privacy implications.”
She said the city is considering a policy that would allow media to view video footage but not to make it public.
Police car dash cams have been around since 1980. Coupled with police body cams and individuals’ cell phone cameras, technology has transformed the way the public has looked at incidents of brutality and mistreatment of people of color by police.
Recently, body cam footage in the killing of Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati contributed to the indictment of shooting officer for murder.
“Not only do I think the officers behave better, I think the people on the other side of the camera behave better as well,” said Chief Whent. “And so, I think it has the civilizing effect on both sides of the camera.”
The Oakland Police Department spends money to download and store video footage on its own servers. Seeking more guarantees of police accountability, the Bay Area chapter of 100 Black Men is calling for a third-party data sharing cloud, requiring Oakland officers to upload video footage to avoid tampering with evidence.