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City reinstates use of body camera

DEL MAR — Del Mar’s park ranger was expected to resume using a body camera this past week, according to an update given by the city manager at the Dec. 15 meeting.

In March Adam Chase, the ranger, pulled over, unknown to him at the time, an off-duty reserve deputy for using a cell phone while driving.

Following the incident there was a public records request to view the video footage.

“Up until that point, as a city, we didn’t have a formal adopted procedure in place through our city attorney of how to use the body camera,” City Manager Scott Huth said.

Chase had been using an industry-standard procedure, he added.

In September, realizing “there was a need to do some further research into our procedures,” Huth said the city temporarily discontinued the body camera program, which had been in place since 2012.

A draft policy, which also includes procedures for the use of a vehicle-mounted camera, was recently completed and circulated among city staff, including the city attorney. Chase received a copy Dec. 12.

“I’m anticipating the policy isn’t going to change and the camera will go back into service sometime this week,” Huth said. “Through the discussion it’s been clear that the council, as well as staff and (I have) been supportive of the use of the camera.

“I think it’s a very important tool for law enforcement, as well as a tool for the public to see what we’re doing in our performance of our law enforcement duties in the community,” he added.

General use of cameras will be limited to law enforcement activities such as traffic stops, arrests, investigations or anything that is part of a violation.

“In the course of the ranger’s duty there’s a lot of general public contact,” Huth said. “Those types of interactions are not the kind of things that we’re recording.”

Residents Bill Michalsky, Robin Crabtree and Jim Benedict said they were happy the camera use was being reinstated.

“I’m just mind-boggled that it’s taken so long,” Michalsky said.

“It has taken far too long,” Crabtree added. “It protects us as citizens.”

Benedict said he was disappointed the new policy included a “suffocating” restriction that requires the ranger to advise people they are being recorded.

“I think that’s a terrible rule,” he said. “We need to know what other cities are doing. … Find the law that says we do or don’t have to do that.”

Councilman Dwight Worden disagreed. “That’s a good thing,” he said of the new requirement.

Huth said the new policy was created based on input from Chase and the city attorney. Once finalized, it will be posted on the city website.

In the March incident Chase pulled over Scott Masters, who proceeded to insult the ranger in a 10-minute expletive-laden recorded conversation.

Chase issued him a warning and a few months later the Sheriff’s Department issued a statement saying Masters was “no longer associated with the department.”

According to a yearlong study on the police department in Rialto, Calif., the use of body cameras led to a more than 85 percent percent drop in complaints against officers. It also showed a change in behavior by officers and the public.