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San Diego Police Say Body Cameras Reduce Complaints, Use of Force

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This story has been published in tandem with a segment for KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected." Watch it here now.

As the Los Angeles Police Department embarks on an effort to equip all officers with body cameras, data from San Diego suggests camera use has led to more peaceful confrontations with officers.

San Diego has seen decreases of 47 percent in use of force, 41 percent in complaints, and 31 percent in pepper spray use since its officers began using cameras in January 2014, according to a report by the department.

In L.A. and across the country, the police killings of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, and others has touched off a national debate about the use of force against suspects. Body cameras' recent emergence has factored them into the debate about how police procedure might change. In a recent segment, "SoCal Connected" explored L.A.'s adoption of the technology.

The LAPD has been virtually mum about the cameras since the announcement that it planned to equip all 7,000 officers with one. It has yet to disclose the policies its officers are operating under or what results have been found since it began using the cameras last year. The department has not responded to a public records request from KCET filed in January seeking details about camera use policies.

Police in San Diego began a pilot program with 300 cameras and eventually ramped up to 600. The department intends to outfit 1,000 officers by the end of this year. It uses the Axon camera from Taser, the same model used by the LAPD.

"The body cameras have proven to be a positive game-changer for our department and the San Diego community," said San Diego's police chief, Shelley Zimmerman. "We find the cameras to be a win-win for our officers and citizens and we look forward to continued success with our body-worn video program here in San Diego."

In its report, San Diego police wrote that, "We have carefully drafted our policy to balance a citizen's right to a fair trial, the preservation of evidence, the protection of privacy rights and police officer accountability."

If the early data from San Diego bears out over time, it would corroborate data from Rialto, where police say body cameras led to fewer complaints and instances of use of force.

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