HAYWARD -- Police in a few months will start filming their encounters with people using small video cameras attached to their uniforms.
The city will spend $219,000 to buy the cameras that clip on to uniforms or glasses and make audio and video recordings. It will cost $131,000 each year to store the data.
The city attorney estimates claims and lawsuits alleging excessive force will drop 25 to 50 percent after the cameras are in place, a staff report stated.
Rialto police tested the cameras for a year and found that complaints filed against police went down 88 percent, with a 60 percent decline in use-of-force allegations, the report said.
Hayward police held two community meetings last month to explain the cameras. No one opposed police using the cameras, said an analyst who worked on the department's policy for the program.
"There were a lot of good questions about policy and technology," Lauren Sugayan said.
Barbara Sacks, a Hayward resident, told the council she had attended one of the meetings.
"It sounds like such a sensible thing to do," she said. Since the cameras will collect unbiased documentation, "I don't see how we can miss on this one," Sacks said.
Using the cameras will not be optional, police Chief Diane Urban said after the council unanimously approved the equipment.
"One thing I'm a big believer in is accountability," she said.
Councilman Al Mendall called the cameras a good investment.
"I think it will make our city safer and may save us money," he said. "I think it's a great thing."
Urban said she has meant to add the cameras since she became police chief three years ago. She set aside money for the cameras from funds the department received in 2011 from the sale of assets seized in a big drug bust, but she waited until technology improved. She also took her time to get buy-in from officers, the police union, residents and the city, who worked together to develop the camera program, she said.
"There is excitement now. Officers understand how much it safeguards them," she said.
When an officer starts the video camera, the previous 30 seconds are included in the recording. The tape is always running, but that buffering is crucial and provides context, Urban said.
"It lets you see why the officer is stopping someone," she said, predicting that officers will see fewer complaints.
"You can show them the tape and ask, 'Are you sure you want to file that complaint?'" she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union supports using the video cameras, with certain restrictions, including clear rules for when recordings are made and letting people know they are being recorded. In its recommendations released last year, the ACLU also urged regulating who could view the videos and what they are used for to ensure that embarrassing videos don't end up on the Internet.
Access to the Hayward videos will be limited and tracked, the staff report stated. Recordings that contain evidence will be kept for five years; other recordings will be stored for 90 days.
The program will be phased in, starting in four to six months. City residents will be notified before the cameras start rolling, the report said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473. Follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.