Home News California bill may limit police access to body camera recordings

California bill may limit police access to body camera recordings

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The Oakland Police Department has been using body cameras since 2010 and have seen a reduction in cases involving use-of-force and citizen complaints.  While overall they feel the cameras have created transparency, there are policymakers within and outside the department that think differently.

According to NPR, throughout the nation policymakers are debating when police officers cameras should be turned on, how the recordings should be stored and when or if they should be shared with the public.  There is also the question of how often does an officer’s story correspond with what the video shows and if the officers themselves should be able to review their own videos.

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent states, “Our experience has been that the evidence has largely supported the actions of the police officers, in showing that they were in fact behaving appropriately.”

Whent has been testifying at the State Capitol in Sacramento on behalf of a proposed law that would prevent police officers from reviewing their own recordings before giving a statement.  He said he wants to know what a cope recalls from an incident, not what the video recorded.

“We believe that the public has more faith in the process if the officer does not watch the video prior,” he said, adding it is important because it goes to the cop’s state of mind.

However, Mike Rains, an attorney who specializes in representing police officers and their unions, said that this belief is absurd.

“It really is the only reason for not showing an officer a video, is that ‘Ok, we don’t want you to be able to get your story straight.’ And it’s all premised on that.  It’s crazy!” he said.

NPR reported that Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the issue of whether an officer can see his or her video before writing a report is the most contentious.  She said that while there is some risk that some cops with fix their reports to reflect their videos, this would be slim because in many cases the possibility of other available recordings would deter it.

“It may not be possible for them to be as much of a schemer as people think they can be, because you have lots of videos, not just the one that might be on the officer himself,” she said.  “In this day and age we might have videos from other perspectives, and they cannot anticipate what those will show.”

This week the California Assembly bill Whent testified on behalf was amended to give police around the state the ability to review their video before writing reports.  This applied to all cities except those like Oakland that set their own policies on such matters.

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