Police Body-Cam Law Sidelined Again in California

SACRAMENTO (CN) – A California lawmaker’s effort to regulate the release of police body-camera footage has been sidelined until 2018 after his police transparency measure stalled in the state Senate.

Assembly Bill 748 was strongly opposed by law enforcement agencies after its author introduced sweeping changes in July. It passed through a Senate committee in July but was not heard again before a Sept. 1 legislative deadline.

The measure introduced a balancing test for law enforcement agencies to use when deciding whether to disclose body-camera video from incidents such as fatal police shootings. It would make the footage available through the California State Public Records Act. The bill was sponsored by the California News Publishers Association.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said he will go back to the drawing board and bring up the bill again in 2018.

“California needs a statewide standard for the disclosure of footage,” Ting said in a statement. “In order to let the footage speak for itself, we need more time to find the breakthrough in this bill and I will continue to engage with stakeholders to find a transparent and equitable solution.”

Supporters of AB 748 contend that while many California law enforcement agencies have adopted body cameras, a loophole in state law allows them to conceal footage from the community, lawmakers and journalists. They claim police departments routinely deny access to body-camera footage by labeling it investigatory, and exempt from public disclosure.

“Current law, which gives police the unfettered discretion to determine what footage to release, lets law enforcement pick and choose which cases deserve transparency – and which cases don’t,” the Publishers Association argued in support of AB 748.

Law enforcement agencies rallied against the proposal, arguing that local agencies should be able to create their own guidelines because prematurely releasing footage could hamper police investigations.

“There are any number of possible permutations that could exist as to why a video should be released or shouldn’t be released,” Cory Salzillo with the California State Sheriff’s Association testified in July. “It could otherwise be evidence that is now out in the public tainting that investigation.”

Several bills aimed at regulating public access to body-camera recordings have failed in the Legislature in the past several years. Three related measures failed in 2015 and again in 2016, including proposals that would have prohibited officers from making recordings of patients in medical facilities and a requirement that police departments place body-camera recordings conspicuously on their websites.

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