A Sacramento Sheriff's deputy was shot and killed Monday in Rancho Cordova. Another deputy, the suspect and a bystander were wounded, but none of the deputies involved were wearing body cameras.
Unlike the Sacramento Police Department, body cameras have not been issued by the sheriff's department. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones says he brought a proposal to the Board of Supervisors in June that is still being considered.
CapRadio's Bob Moffitt asked Jones Tuesday about why his department has been slow in implementing the technology. The interview took place outside a law enforcement conference and expo at the Sacramento Convention Center before Black Lives Matter and pro-police demonstrations.
Obviously that was my first remarks to the media and emotions were quite high. But you know really it was never meant and I put out a clarifying memorandum this morning. It has really been kind of misconstrued by not the media entirely, but by a couple of outlets, to say I called for a counter-protest and nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, I've been through this before. I know that the public in large measure supports us and they share in our grief and they want an outlet for that.
On why a sheriff’s department body camera program hasn’t been implemented yet
I'm all for transparency and openness, but I mean you have to look at what's going on with Sacramento Police Department. They've created policies of full disclosure of reports of videos within 30 days. They've outfitted all their officers with body cameras. And still there remains the same criticisms that were before. Now, not saying that that might not help more than it hurts, and I honestly think they do, but the reality is these things have to be made in what is the best interest of the profession of law enforcement.
On whether the best interests and safety of the community should be considered ahead of the best interest of law enforcement
The first consideration is always what's in the best for the community. Secondarily is what's in the best interest of the department and the individual officers. But the reality is you can't look at either of those questions in a vacuum. You have to balance it with everything else.
There have been instances that are well documented, even in the city of Sacramento, where the chief of police has gone to the city council and said hey look, for the investigative integrity in this particular case we need to cut off that 30-day deadline and the council said no and ordered him to release the video. OK, that's great. Number one, that doesn't do anything for public accountability. All it does is jeopardizes the investigation of potential prosecution of the particular case that was on video.
And so when you look at the best interests of the community, certainly the integrity investigation, the integrity of a potential preservation for prosecution, those have to be considerations. They're not immediate. But they are under the overarching umbrella of what's in the best community. And I have to be the guardian of that because you've got many folks advocating otherwise, but they don't have the responsibility of looking at the issue in its entirety and I do.
On how to evaluate whether officers follow protocol without visual evidence
We still have witness statements. We do have a very comprehensive investigative arm of our department that investigates officer misconduct. I've fired or otherwise eliminated over 40 deputies since I've been sheriff. If they got to go, they go. I would say that to imply there's a big hole in that right now, that somehow the cameras will fill, I don’t think that’s the correct assessment.
On the difference between surveillance video and body camera footage being used as evidence
A fixed surveillance camera is basically a video witness statement, right? But often times the officer’s conduct on the body camera requires context. That might not always be given. It might be, as we saw in this latest shooting in Sacramento, it might not provide the particular vantage that people are expecting or wanting.
When you deploy body cameras it creates an expectancy in the public that everything we do, especially at the critical moments and with the critical angles, is going to be captured on videotape. So that gives rise to automatic questions and inferences. If it's not caught on videotape what are we hiding? And I don't think that's an appropriate inference to make in all cases. Believe me, more video is better than no video. I'd much rather have body camera video, but my personal plea to the legislature, and I've said this directly to the governor in a meeting, stay out of it. Let the legislature stay out of it. Let it happen organically as a natural progression of the profession of law enforcement. And I guarantee you just like in car cameras almost every agency that can afford them will have body cameras including us.
The difficulty comes in when the legislature tries to substitute their judgment for that of professional law enforcement. I've been in the business 30 years. I consider myself a professional. When they try and substitute their judgment without the context, experience, or knowledge of what is required and what the job entails you're going to be nothing but screw it up. And that's unfortunately what is happening with the politicalization of body cameras. It didn't happen with in-car cameras and there's no controversy surrounding it. It has happened with body cameras and we see what's happened because of it.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.