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Smile! Youre on police body cam
Manteca officers will start wearing cameras on uniform
Police Chief Nick Obligacion demonstrates one of the police body cams. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Police dashboard cams have captured everything from the comically intoxicated to the frighteningly violent.

But starting next month, those who interact with Manteca’s finest will do so from a completely different angle – this one pointed upward from the button-down shirt that is standard issue for patrol officers that interface with Manteca’s residents.

Over the course of the next two years the City of Manteca will spend $67,500 to outfit its rank-and-file with wearable cameras that capture both  audio and video from a first-person perspective that’s a stark contrast to the tunnel-vision offered by mounted, in-vehicle video systems.

In the eyes of Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion, the cameras – two of which were tested by a half-dozen officers over three different shifts for their effectiveness in the field – will provide, for better or worse, video of the interaction between officers and those that they come into contact with.

Having a log, he said, eliminates the “he said” angle from the equation when a complaint is lodged. It also creates another level of evidence if and when a situation calls for it.

“It isn’t the cure all, and we know that,” Obligacion said. “And this isn’t going to replace the job that we can do as supervisors. But it is another tool that they can use in doing the job, and I think that giving our officers every tool possible is something that’s important.”

Manufactured by the Taser Corporation, the camera is slightly larger than an iPhone and affixes itself to the inside of an officer’s shirt by sliding in through the buttons and clasping back through the outside – sliding down and locking itself into the button below it. It’s small, black and relatively nondescript. According to Obligacion, the body cam has served the City of Modesto well since they started using it last year.

Both the audio and video feed will be stored to a cloud system. It is part of the purchasing contract the city has to secure remote storage capacity for three years. It can then be referenced by superiors on-demand for investigations or for training purposes.

The camera is very similar to the initial harness-mounted cameras that were first used by law enforcement organizations.

“We’ve had situations in the past where somebody has called up and said that an officer was rude or that he approached in a particular manner, and we’ve been able to say, ‘Okay – let me pull that tape,’” Obligacion said. “They don’t realize that the officers have a microphone, and a lot of the times it’s the driver that was irate and swearing and the officer tried to do everything within their power to stay calm.

“It’s a way to prevent that kind of misunderstanding, and add another level of evidence at the same time. And you can see a lot of things on a camera that you can’t necessarily hear – a lot of times body language and the way somebody presents themselves can be very important.”