Sheriff’s Union Sues To Stop Body-Camera Use

The union representing Riverside County sheriff’s deputies has asked a judge to prevent the county from requiring deputies to use body-mounted video cameras, asserting that officials failed to negotiate the use of the new equipment.

Some Riverside County deputies have tested the cameras voluntarily. Based on those results, the Sheriff’s Department requested and received approval from the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 4 to purchase 165 cameras for use by deputies working at the Jurupa Valley station.

County spokesman Ray Smith said Wednesday, Jan. 28, that he didn’t have any information on when the deployment of the cameras in the cities of Jurupa Valley, Eastvale and Norco and nearby unincorporated areas was scheduled to begin or whether the lawsuit would delay it. A court hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for March 9.

The Riverside Sheriff’s Association, which represents deputy sheriffs, corporals and investigators, filed the lawsuit in Superior Court in Riverside on Jan. 6. The county, the Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Stan Sniff and the Board of Supervisors were listed as defendants.

The union is not opposed to the credit-card-sized cameras themselves, which are seen as a way to provide a clearer accounting of an incident, improve police accountability and reduce unfounded complaints and lawsuits by civilians.

The lawsuit said the county violated the memorandum of understanding with the union by imposing a change in working conditions without first negotiating with deputies.

Attorney Michael Stone of Pasadena-based Stone Busailah wrote in the lawsuit that the longstanding practice of not using the cameras “is sufficiently widespread and of sufficient duration to constitute an implied condition of employment. … RSA has not agreed to this change in the established past policy and practice. Respondents have acted unilaterally, without meeting and conferring as required by law.”

In an interview, Stone said that if deputies allowed the county to require them to use the cameras without negotiations, the county might impose additional work conditions in the future without negotiating them first. And he was concerned that there are no rules about when the cameras should be turned on, how long the videos will be kept and whether a deputy could review a video before giving a statement about an incident.

“We support the idea of trying these cameras out, but not before there are policies and rules and procedures in place that govern what you are going to do with the final product,” Stone said. “As far as we know, there’s nothing.”

Undersheriff William Di Yorio, in a Nov. 4 interview, said that because the department considers the cameras to be in a test phase, management does not have to bargain with the union on them.

The union disagrees. A Nov. 19 cease-and-desist letter sent to Sniff said, “Respectfully, the explanation that ‘We’re just testing the devices’ is no justification for neglecting the duty to bargain.”

The county responded in a Dec. 3 letter that it would meet with union officials, not to negotiate the use of the cameras, but to discuss any concerns about their use.

“Since camera use is evolving regionally and nationwide, and has become more reliable and affordable, the Sheriff’s Department is looking at an expanded testing phase as the department explores the viability for use department-wide,” Smith wrote in an email. “At the appropriate time, the department will then establish an official policy and RSA will have an opportunity to provide input.”

From The Press Enterprise