The Santa Barbara Grand Jury recommended that the city “immediately seek funding” to install TV cameras in its 36 patrol cars, arguing that the transparency such cameras provide are in “their department’s interest, their city government’s interest, and the public’s interest.” It was noted that of all the law enforcement agencies in the county, only the City of Santa Barbara and the City of Guadalupe lack cameras in their patrol cars. Far from being new-fangled technology, the County Sheriff and the City of Santa Maria — which have 85 patrol cars between them — have had cameras in their cars for the past 12 years. The Santa Barbara Police Department used to have car cameras but hasn’t for a long time. Department officials said the old technology grew outdated and that storing the video records had become a costly administrative burden. The Grand Jury report said the current cost of a car camera ranged between $8,000 and $9,500.
Freelance reporter Peter Lance, in the first of more than 20 News-Press articles alleging police misconduct on the part of DUI specialist officer Kasi Beutel, brought to light the lack of cameras in Santa Barbara cop cars. For many around City Hall, the news came as a shock. The evidence provided by cameras in cop cars can prove invaluable in resolving disputes between arresting officers and those they arrest as to how the arrest was conducted, who said what, and whether an abuse of authority transpired. Some cops have taken to buying cameras on their own dime and mounting them by the top button of their shirt. During a special City Council meeting last Thursday, Chief Cam Sanchez stated he was exploring bids for car cameras, but cautioned, “It’s an expensive gig to do,” adding, “No one in this room has $244,000, so we’re applying for grants.” He also said he’s exploring the possibility of Homeland Security funding.