Some deputies at the Las Colinas Detention and Rehabilitation Center were fitted with body-worn cameras late last week, making the jail the first in the area to use the technology, sheriff’s officials said Tuesday. .
The pilot program includes 72 female assistants at Santee Prison for Women, all of whom received their cameras on Friday. That’s about 30% of the 230 deputies who work at the facility, according to the San Diego County Sheriff‘s Department.
Officials said they would collect surveys from MPs participating in the scheme. Feedback will be used to improve department policies on body-worn cameras as the program expands to other county jails and to identify training best practices.
The county made significant infrastructure changes to the jail before the program could be implemented, department officials said. A room was built to house docking stations for cameras, and the prison’s electrical and internet systems were upgraded to facilitate charging and data transfers.
Patrol deputies were the first to be equipped with body-worn cameras in 2017. The department said in a statement that the goal is still to provide the technology to deputies working at all seven county jails, and that starting with cameras on assistants at Las Colinas will help shape the expansion of the program.
The video footage provides critical evidence for incident and complaint investigations, officials said. Currently, most prisons only have fixed cameras.
“It’s ultimately about the safety of the people in our care and those who work in our facilities,” Acting Sheriff Kelly Martinez said. “Having body cameras in our prisons will also strengthen our relationship with the community by increasing accountability and trust.”
According to the current policy governing the use of cameras in prisons, MPs must activate their cameras when:
- Move or escort an incarcerated person from one sector to another;
- Entering a cell, dormitory or detention area inhabited by inmates;
- Putting people in jail or managing other parts of the admissions process;
- Search for residential areas, cells or dormitories;
- Supervise inmates in labor service and;
- Movement of incarcerated persons in or out of transport vehicles.
There are also instances where deputies are advised not to turn on their cameras in order to respect an inmate’s privacy, such as when an inmate is taking a shower, being strip searched, or talking to an attorney.
The announcement follows a scathing state audit released early last month that found the sheriff’s department had repeatedly failed to adequately prevent and respond to inmate deaths. From 2006 to 2020, 185 inmates died in San Diego County jails.
The audit found that the sheriff’s department “did not consistently track” inmates who needed medical and mental health services, and concluded the lack of attention may have contributed to their deaths.
The report noted that when deputies checked inmates, those security checks often boiled down to inadequate stares that sometimes missed inmates in distress.
Auditors recommended the department revise its security policy to require staff to check on inmates’ well-being without disturbing their sleep. The department noted that expanding its body-worn camera program would help capture the views of deputies during those security checks.