Body-camera bill passes out of public safety committee

On Tuesday, a measure sponsored by CNPA to make public certain body-camera footage presumptively disclosable was passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 5-2 vote.

AB 748, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), seeks to amend the investigatory record exemption of the California Public Records Act. Current law allows police agencies to categorically deny access to most police records, including body-camera footage.

The measure would require the disclosure of audio or video records that depict a matter of public concern, currently defined as an incident that relates to a peace officer violation of law or agency policy, or a use of force.
The measure would allow an agency to withhold the record for up to 120 days based on an investigatory purpose, at which time that justification for nondisclosure would expire. This provision is intended to overcome a perennial problem in the CPRA with respect to investigatory records, as the exemption has been interpreted by the courts to permit an agency to withhold an investigatory record indefinitely.

The bill also takes into account a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy by providing for redactions of information that would violate that privacy right. Moreover, the limited definition of public concern further narrows the scope of footage that would be released. This limitation is in line with the purpose of implementing body-cameras – to monitor government activity, not necessarily to make public every single interaction police have with the public.

Additionally, the bill makes clear that agencies can provide more access to footage than the minimum standards provided by the bill. That ensures that jurisdictions like Oakland, which choose to be more transparent with their records and regularly release recordings, can continue to do so.

The bill was opposed by numerous law enforcement agencies who argued that the current system allowing local control over body camera access should remain.

The bill will probably not be taken up until after the Legislature returns from its recess, which begins on Friday, July 21.