Commentary: Jail Video Shows Good & Bad

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, April 7, 2006

When working as designed, jail cameras protect both deputies and inmates. They protect inmates from overzealous deputies who know they are being recorded, and protect deputies from inmates who file false charges of brutality.

Unfortunately, Sacramento's jail cameras don't always work as designed. In a suspicious number of cases, cameras have malfunctioned; key video has turned up missing or pictures have been distorted.

Critics also complain about blind spots, areas of the jail that have no cameras. In one incident six years ago, jail cameras picked up the image of several deputies dragging an inmate out of a cell, into a hallway where there was no camera. The next picture showed the man lying on the floor covered in blood. At trial, jailers said the injured inmate resisted their commands. A jury thought otherwise. The county ended up paying $91,000 in a settlement against the department for excessive force.

The sheriff can do better. He needs to make sure there are enough cameras in the jail, that they are in good working order and that his managers monitor the images captured at regular intervals. Not just for "gotcha" purposes, but also to show where improvements can be made, and, to highlight what's going right at the jail.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.