Bill Creating Greater Body Camera Footage Transparency Moves Forward

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SACRAMENTO, CA – The Senate Committee on Public Safety passed legislation by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) that would make law enforcement body camera recordings subject to public disclosure through the Public Records Act.

“The growing lack of trust between communities and the law enforcement officers who protect them has led to the growing use of body cameras. If body cameras are to strengthen public trust, then we need a statewide standard for the release of body camera footage to the public,” said Ting.  “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth millions. It’s time we let the footage speak for itself. Withholding these recordings is perceived as hiding information, and this only causes mistrust, especially when there are incidents of alleged officer-involved uses of force.”

Sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Assembly Bill (AB) 748 would allow law enforcement agencies to withhold a video or audio recording if the public’s interest in nondisclosure outweighs public concern. In 2015, the Police Chiefs Association estimated that 20% of California police departments had deployed body-worn cameras on their officers, and that number has been growing.

In 2014, the United States Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released a report recommending that agencies should release footage in some cases to show that an officer was in compliance with the law, or show that the agency is taking appropriate action against the officer.

“California is the case study for a bad body camera access policy. Under the Public Records Act today, there is no way to compel an agency to disclose footage, even and there is significant public interest in knowing what happened,” said Nikki Moore, Legal Counsel for CNPA. “AB 748 addresses this gap in the law by mandating the disclosure of some footage, when there is a heightened interest in disclosure, like when an officer uses deadly force against a citizen.”

“AB 748 is crucial to ensuring that body cameras fulfill their promise of improved transparency and accountability for law enforcement,” said Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate with the ACLU of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy.  “After all, body cameras are tools, and whether they help achieve these goals depends on the policies governing their use. With AB 748, body cameras may achieve their purpose as law enforcement oversight mechanisms by giving Californians access to critical footage, including incidents of police violence and misconduct.”

AB 748 would require the release of all footage after 120 days, providing a lengthy period of time for agencies to conduct their own investigations, and also prohibits an agency from providing recordings to third-party vendors, except for the purpose of data storage.

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