By Shaun Rundle, Legislative & Region Affairs Representative.
In the wake of the 2014 incident in Ferguson, Missouri the public and lawmaker interest in body worn camera use by local departments skyrocketed. That in turn caused several members of the California Legislature to introduce bills in 2015 that would have placed strict mandates on local agency body cam policies and implementation. Realizing the staffing, equipment and data storage costs, legal requirements, and policy decisions were much bigger than any legislator anticipated, those 2015 bills failed at the Capitol. Here in 2017, two body cam bills are making their way through the Legislature; each one tackling the public release of footage depicted.
One bill, AB 459 (Chau-D) relates to certain crimes depicted on body cam footage, and whether the crimes depicted should be publicly released. The bill prohibits disclosure of rape, incest, sexual assault, domestic violence or child abuse to the California Public Records Act (CRPA). AB 459 passed all committees and floor debate in the Assembly and has been referred to the Senate Public Safety and Judiciary committees for hearing within the next month.
A second body cam bill is AB 748 (Ting-D). This bill would require each department or agency that that elects to require officers to wear body-worn cameras to develop a policy setting forth the procedures for, and limitations on, public access to recordings taken by body-worn cameras. The bill would require the department or agency to conspicuously post the policy on its Internet Web site. AB 748 is very like a 2015 piece of legislation, SB 175 (Huff-R) and will be heard on July 11th in Senate Public Safety Committee.
2015-2016 bills attempted to specify whether officers could review body cam footage prior to writing a report or giving a statement. Another bill did the opposite and stated that an agency’s policy must state that officers can review the footage prior to a report. CPOA’s stance on the body camera footage viewing issue has always been that those decisions should be at the agency head level, and legislation should not dictate local policy.
The Legislature is slowly realizing that any legislation that attempts to either usurp local authority or implement statewide policies will be opposed by law enforcement, as legislative attempts have been for the past several years. CPOA and our partners have been education legislators and their staff on the costs of body worn cameras and how they can be used as an effective tool in community policing. That tool, however, can only be implemented by a local agency that knows how to best serve their community. Those policies can’t come from Sacramento.