The first access-friendly body camera bill to be introduced in the California Legislature will go into print next week, when Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) amends his AB 748, which currently requires agencies to post their body camera access policies.
The measure, sponsored by CNPA, amends the investigatory record exemption in the California Public Records Act to require the release of audio or video recordings that depict an incident of public concern, like a use of deadly force by police.
Cop reporters across the state are familiar with the struggle to access information from law enforcement, particularly dashboard and body camera recordings. Current law has been misused by local agencies to declare a policy of blanket secrecy, barring access to any body camera footage requested by the public. But this secrecy policy flies in the face of the law enforcement community’s stated purpose of body cameras – transparency and accountability.
CNPA believes that these recordings should be presumed public when they depict an incident of public concern. AB 748 fixes a loophole in current law that only requires police agencies to release information about an incident, and not the actual records relating to the incident. Pursuant to the amendments, disclosure would be mandated when the recording shows a use of force by police against a citizen, and in other instances where a requester can articulate a public interest in disclosure.
An established right to access this footage ensures that when bystander footage of a newsworthy event is disseminated to the public, the official government record is also available. It also prevents police agencies from picking and choosing when to release footage, or releasing only partial footage.
Numerous examples across the state and country have shown that the accounts of events by officers often conflict with the recordings that depict their activity. The recent release of video footage of the shooting of Philando Castile is just one upsetting example.
CNPA urges members to follow this bill and editorialize in support of AB 748. Law enforcement will likely be in strong opposition to the measure.
The measure will be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee on July 11.