Two More Proposed Bills in California Look at Post-Ferguson Reforms Including Police Body Cameras

Police Body Camera

In the wake of Ferguson, we have had a nationwide discussion on issues focusing on police accountability and oversight. One idea that has emerged has been requiring police to wear police body cameras – cameras that clip on to an officer’s uniform and record audio and video of the officer’s interactions with the public.

President Obama in early December proposed a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program that “would provide a 50 percent match to states and localities that purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage. An investment of $15 million in the first year could support up to 10,000 body worn cameras and storage. Overall, the $75 million investment over three years could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras and storage.”

Michael Brown’s parents released a statement, encouraging the public to join their campaign “to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.”

In California, Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez has introduced two measures designed to strengthen public safety, increase transparency and improve the relationship between police officers and the communities they protect.

Assembly Bill 69 will require all law enforcement officers statewide to wear body cameras while on duty.

Assembly Bill 71 will amend current reporting procedures for law enforcement and will require state law enforcement agencies to submit an annual report to the California Department of Justice on all shooting incidents where a peace officer is involved. The report would require statistics on shootings that result in the injury or death of an individual or a peace officer.

Currently, law enforcement agencies are only required to report justifiable homicides. AB 71 reflects a national call to increase reporting data of officer-involved shootings in the wake of some alarming reports by media on the difficulty of getting accurate data on officer-involved shootings and other use of force resulting in death.

“It is important to have a sense of trust between the community and the police,” said Assemblymember Rodriguez. “Officers wearing body cameras will strengthen that trust, give the public insight into how officers do their jobs and make both the officer and the community safer.”

Assemblymember Rodriguez continued, “It is also clear that there is not sufficient data on officer involved shootings. My bill will increase transparency and accountability while also providing a clearer picture on how often officers are shot in the line of duty. I have been working closely on these bills with stakeholders, including administrative and line police and sheriff officers to find a comprehensive and cooperative way to improve police-community relations.”

While most advocates have been supportive of the idea of body cameras, the actual roll out has been a bit more tricky, with privacy concerns as well as questions about whether and how videos are public records.

The Vanguard recently spoke with Chauncee Smith, a Racial Justice Advocate for the ACLU of California. “The ACLU is cautiously optimistic that the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement will deter police misconduct and use of force incidents and provide an effective means to hold officers accountable for misconduct.”

One concern is privacy, when an officer approaches someone in their home. Normally, police would need a warrant to search a private residence. Mr. Smith said, “In those kinds of situations, we would like to see the person be given notice that there’s a body camera and [give] on-camera consent to ensure that privacy interests of people are protected.”

He noted that such a situation is a very different interaction than when it is a public encounter between people and law enforcement.

Mr. Smith also said that the ACLU’s position is that the officer’s initial statement should be made prior to them viewing the video to “get their natural perception of the incident in question if there’s evidence of a crime.” The subject of the law enforcement charges does not get to view the video prior to making their initial statement.

Finally, the ACLU believes that these videos, when they are of public value, should be available to the public – when there is evidence of a crime, accusation of misconduct, or a use of force question, the video should be a public record.

In October of 2013, the ACLU released their recommendation on police body cameras. While they support the technology overall, there are two tricky but critical questions they raise:

  • Will police officers have the discretion to control what the cameras record? If officers can “edit on the fly,” that will destroy this technology’s value as a police accountability tool. Should officers’ cameras be on at all times during their shift, or would it be too oppressive for officers to have every chat between partners in a patrol car recorded, and to worry that recordings will be misused by police supervisors against whistleblowers or union activists? But if they are under officer control, how do we ensure that an officer won’t manipulate the recordings to permit abuse?
  • Are good policies put in place to ensure that these cameras do not invade the privacy of particular individuals, or become yet another vector for mass surveillance? How can we ensure that citizens are made aware that they are being recorded; that video taken inside a person’s home (during a domestic violence call or burglary investigation, for example) or in other sensitive situations does not embarrass someone and cause others to hesitate to call for help? How can we ensure that video of embarrassing or titillating incidents does not get circulated within a police force for laughs, or end up on the internet? How can we ensure that the public has faith that video of their interactions with the police will be strictly handled?

In September of 2014, following the initial Ferguson, Missouri, incident, ACLU Communications and Public Policy Director Ed Yohnka cautioned, “It would be unwise to deploy this new technology without instituting some basic privacy protections for the man on the street. If we don’t, police body cameras may devolve into yet another tool for routine surveillance of the public, not oversight of the police.”

He argued, “The best approach is to require officers to record every interaction with a civilian. The only exception to this policy should be for First Amendment activity (e.g., a protest, demonstration or rally), which should not be captured and cataloged by police. This activity should not be recorded — absent some reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior.”

He added, “This standard means capturing a lot of data, from stop-and-frisk searches to tourists seeking directions. Concern about collecting this many recordings can be mitigated by regulating how this data is retained and distributed.”

“Recordings should be retained no more than 90 days, unless the encounter has been flagged — an instance in which force is used, a detention or arrest results, a formal or informal complaint is filed or because a supervisor holds it for internal training purposes,” he wrote.

“Individuals recorded by police officers should have access to recordings pertaining to their incident. Flagged recordings should be released to the public on request. Any recording not flagged should not be disclosed. Finally, no recordings should be disclosed to other government agencies unless a supervisor determines they are relevant to an ongoing investigation or contain evidence of criminal activity,” Mr. Yohnka added.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Davis Progressive

    I think installing buddy cameras would go along way toward if not ending the problem of police abuse it will help to resolve that problem. So I think between that and the proposal to have an independent body investigate police shootings and ending grand jury’s for police shootings will be a powerful package of reform in California.

  2. TrueBlueDevil

    Maybe we should install more cameras at places of know crimes, like 7/11, gas stations, and banks.

    A Democratic politician has also proposed that we bar minority youth from owning guns in order to save their lives.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Maybe we should install more cameras at places of know crimes, like 7/11, gas stations, and banks.”

      i think we already do.

      “A Democratic politician has also proposed that we bar minority youth from owning guns in order to save their lives.”

      i’ll have to see a link on that one.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Michael Bloomberg suggests disarming minorities to ‘keep them alive’

        “While speaking at the Aspen Institute, Mr. Bloomberg, 72, said 95 percent of murders fall into a specific category: a male minority between the ages of 15 and 25, The Aspen Times reported.

        Cities need to get guns out of this group’s hands and keep them alive, the former three-term mayor said, according to The Times.

        “These kids think they’re going to get killed anyway because all their friends are getting killed,” said Mr. Bloomberg, who funds the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. “They just don’t have any long-term focus or anything. It’s a joke to have a gun. It’s a joke to pull a trigger.”

        Read more: 

        Audio Surfaces of Michael Bloomberg’s Brutally Candid Comments About Guns and Minorities

        Michael Bloomberg calls Colorado’s decision on legal pot stupid

        … And the mainstream media avoids the bombshell.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Wikipedia: ” Democrat [40 years] before seeking elective office, Bloomberg switched his party registration in 2001 to run for mayor as a Republican. He defeated opponent Mark Green in a close election held just weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Bloomberg won a second term in 2005 and left the Republican Party two years later.[4] He campaigned to weaken the city’s term limits law and was elected to his third term in 2009 as an independent candidate on the Republican ballot line.”

          His temporary move to the GOP looks more like political acumen than conviction.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          I find it interesting that you have yet to say a single word condemning what he said. Number one, he is factually wrong, and number two, some might call his comments stereotypes and / or racist. And the media which avoids the bombshell, but jumps on any other little blip regarding alleged racial issues.

          Why does Bloomberg get a pass? Why?

          I did enjoy the interchange between him and his girlfriend regarding pot: she thinks its more or less harmless, he worries about young people who will lose 5-10 % of their IQ. I’m glad that one major politician can read the new scientific studies!

        3. Davis Progressive

          i thought that went without saying – it’s a stupid comment and unfortunately probably a lot more people think that way than just him. he’s an elitist at best and racist at worst.  his policies on policing were close to giuliani’s book, so i’m not really very surprised.  nor do i really care as he’s no longer mayor of new york.

      2. Miwok

        “Maybe we should install more cameras at places of know crimes, like 7/11, gas stations, and banks.”

        i think we already do.

        I would disagree with that statement, because it is the security cams the business owner put up, always of dubious quality and recording ability. When I set up the Sac DA video audio lab, they would get tapes that had been used so many time they were blank, beyond static, or cameras that just caught blurs.

        If they are serious about crime, the cameras the PD uses have to be multiple angles, good quality, and unobtrusive. Of course, once they lay off even more cops to buy more cameras, remember Obama started by saying WE are going to buy all the cops cameras, then said he will pay 50%, then we can get everyone left outfitted.

  3. PhilColeman

    “Mr. Smith also said that the ACLU’s position is that the officer’s initial statement should be made prior to them viewing the video to “get their natural perception of the incident in question if there’s evidence of a crime.” The subject of the law enforcement charges does not get to view the video prior to making their initial statement.”

    HUH? !!!

    Could somebody, anybody, give an English language interpretation of what that means? You might begin with what is “natural perception.”




    1. Davis Progressive

      here is the aclu’s long explanation:

      It is a poor investigative practice. An officer who is involved in a shooting is under investigation, not only to see if the shooting is consistent with policy but potentially for criminal charges. Any detective would be the first to say that it’s hardly a solid investigative practice to let the subject of an investigation view the video evidence you have over and over before you even ask them what happened.

      Police departments don’t believe their own arguments. If they did, they’d show all the video evidence they have to the suspects in every crime they investigate. They don’t do that. In fact, one LAPD commander recently explained why LAPD often withholds autopsies in police shootings from the public for a period of time:

      “We don’t want the witnesses’ testimony to be tainted,” Smith said. Detectives want to obtain “clean interviews” from people, rather than a repetition of what they may have seen in media reports about [the subject’s] death, he added. “They could use information from the autopsy to give credibility to their story,” Smith said.

      It enables lying. If an officer is inclined to lie or distort the truth to justify a shooting, showing an officer the video evidence before taking his or her statement allows the officer to lie more effectively, and in ways that the video evidence won’t contradict. Video evidence can be enormously helpful, but it doesn’t capture everything from every angle. If an officer isn’t sure what was and was not captured by the camera, he or she will feel a healthy pressure to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” in describing an incident out of a desire not to be later revealed as a liar by the video. But if the officer watches the video and discovers that certain elements that put them in a poor light happened not to have been captured—or that there’s a moment when the subject wasn’t in frame that the officer can say he reached for his waistband—then the officer will feel at liberty to shade and color their account of events, if not to lie outright.

      It undermines the legitimacy of investigations. Because letting officers preview videos of an incident before giving a statement can allow them to lie, doing so undermines the credibility of officer statements and the integrity of investigations whether the officers actually lie or not. Such a policy will create an appearance of bias and therefore taint the integrity of investigations. After all, departments aren’t proposing to show video evidence to the subjects of uses of force or to civilian witnesses; that’s a special privilege they’re proposing to give only to officers.


      It enables cross-contamination of evidence and impedes the search for truth. Even for officers who are trying to tell the truth (as we hope most do), showing them the video can easily influence their memory of events. A camera worn on a police officer’s body may capture some things an officer didn’t see and miss things an officer did see. That video provides one important piece of evidence on whether the officer acted reasonably. But the officer’s memory of what took place is also important evidence—especially since courts evaluate the legality of an officer’s use of force based on what he or she knew at the time, not on information gleaned from poring over video evidence later. Memory is highly malleable, and an officer’s initial recollections of what took place are likely to be altered by viewing the video, so that details that don’t appear on video are forgotten and things captured by the video are recalled as if experienced firsthand. As the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review found in working on the Sheriff’s Office policy:

      1. PhilColeman

        The Los Angeles Police Department, or any other municipal law enforcement agency in California, has no authority to prohibit autopsy reports from public viewing. That authority is vested in the county coroner’s office which prepared the report. Potentially, a county sheriff could do this in counties where the Sheriff and Coroner are merged positions.

        1. hpierce

          David… Phil was talking “autopsy”… you really want autopsies recorded and put out in the “public forum” for random viewing on YouTube?  A bit too much “transparency” for me.

  4. Anon

    The ACLU’s position is so muddled, they need to go back to the drawing board and recalibrate.  I gave up trying to understand it after about the first paragraph because it made no sense. They are all over the place with this one. Sometimes they want body cameras, sometimes they don’t. Sheeeeeeeeesh. Another thought comes to mind, “Be careful what you wish for.”

  5. Davis Progressive

    The ACLU’s position is really not that complicated. They want to allow body cameras for reasons that I think we all agree on. But they also want to protect privacy issues. And they want to resolve the issues of whether or not it’s a public record. NOt that complicated

    1. PhilColeman

      Not that complicated.

      All one has to do is reconcile the “privacy protection” with what’s “public record” so that both needs are addressed simultaneously. For me, I see a whole lot of complexity–and futility–trying to encompass these ambiguous and contradictory terms to anybody’s satisfaction.

      1. Anon

        Exactly. Ironically in some of the ACLU’s own discussion, you can see the organization is struggling with trying to reconcile its own confused and differing positions.

        1. Anon

          LOL  I would say “confused and differing” and “emerging” is a distinction without a difference.  It is a very tricky issue, and the ACLU has laid out some of the reasons why.  But they had better be careful what they wish for, because there may be unintended consequences.  Personally I take no position on this issue, because I don’t think it has been thought through well enough.

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