The Seal Beach City Council unanimously approved the Police Department’s purchase of body cameras and TASERs at this week’s meeting.
This was initially a Consent Calendar item, but it was pulled by staff for a separate discussion.
“Body Worn Cameras are small, transportable camera devices worn by police officers to record interactions with members of the public while on duty,” according to the staff report prepared by Commander Michael Ezroj. The report was submitted to the council —and presented to the council during the Monday, July 27 broadcast—by Police Chief Phil Gonshak.
Chief Gonshak said it was a delight to bring the item before the council. The SBPD has been working on the project for about two years.
He said there were three objectives to using the body cameras: to reduce conflicts, save lives and enable a fair and responsive justice system.
In addition to the body worn cameras, the SBPD will install cameras in vehicles and acquire new TASERs.
Gonshak said the new body worn cameras would capture both audio and video. The cameras would be assigned to everyone who works with the public. There will be 50 cameras in all, each assigned to an individual, including sworn officers, jail personnel and parking officers.
Gonshak said Axon, the company providing the products, was the only company providing cloud storage of the data.
Gonshak said that the cameras would not provide a 360-degree field of view and do not move up and down.
In response to a question from District Three Councilman Michael Varipapa, Chief Gonshak said that the reason the city was going with Axon was the cost compared to quality of service.
According to Gonshak, the body cameras, vehicle cameras, and TASERs all work together.
According to the report, the main reasons that law enforcement agencies have acquired body cameras are to improve officer safety, reduce liability, resolve citizen complaints, and “strengthen police leadership by illustrating efforts at transparency.”
District Two Councilman Thomas Moore said he thinks body cameras are a great way to relieve tensions across the country. “It protects our police and protects the citizens interacting with our police,” Moore said.
Gonshak said one of the reasons each of the 50 cameras is being given to a different person is accountability.
“With the City of Seal Beach purchasing all items jointly as proposed, Axon is able to provide $50,385.00 in savings from the Body Worn Cameras and Fleet Cameras, and $12,830.00 from the TASER 7 program, over the first year costs, resulting in a total of $63,215.00 in savings during the first year of the agreement,” according to the report.
Gonshak said every officer will have an opportunity to review body and vehicle camera video. Gonshak said this would ensure accurate reports.
Moore asked what would prevent an officer from turning off the camera.
Gonshak said accidents will happen, but an overt move to turn off the camera is a violation of policy and would be dealt with.
He also said audio and video recording in the jail is critical.
Gonshak talked about body cameras during a December 2019 interview with the Sun. At the time, he said he planned to roll out body cameras in the next year or two, as body cameras had become a nationwide trend that the SBPD needed to be part of.
The TASERS currently used by the Seal Beach Police are no longer being manufactured, according to Chief Gonshak.
Gonshak also said the use of TASERS have drastically reduced uses of force.
He said using a TASER provides an officer with a less lethal option.
Seal Beach is getting a TASER 7 system.
District One Councilman Joe Kalmick asked if the current TASER 26s had been reliable.
Gonshak said the SBPD absolutely has to replace them.
According to Gonshak, the city would get a trade in on the old TASERs, but it is not yet known what financial benefit the city will receive from the trade.
Technically, the council approved a resolution that did three things:
• approved a contract between the city and Axon Enterprise, Inc., for body cameras and TASER 7 systems.
• approved a contract between Central Square Technologies and the city to integrate Axon’s products with the city’s systems
• and authorized the city manager to execute the documents required to carry out the agreements.