Capitol Alert

Amended California police body camera bill advances

The Mobile Field Force Operation of the Stockton Police Department has equipped its officers with body cams for over a year now.
The Mobile Field Force Operation of the Stockton Police Department has equipped its officers with body cams for over a year now.

In the face of strenuous resistance from law enforcement groups, a California Assembly committee Thursday amended a bill multiple times to allow police officers in most cities to review body camera footage before detailing incidents involving force.

It took considerable maneuvering to advance Assembly Bill 66 out of the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. Every Republican on the committee abstained in the vote, and supporters had to scramble to persuade Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, who had voted for the bill in a previous committee, to switch to the deciding “yes” vote.

After initially changing the bill so local departments could decide when officers view footage, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, accepted another amendment saying officers can always view footage first, with an exemption for cities like Oakland that already have policies requiring officers to give reports before viewing footage.

Body cameras have attracted ample attention after a string of lethal confrontations between police officers and unarmed African Americans spurred national protests. Lawmakers have introduced multiple bills this session governing how body camera footage could be used.

“We know that we’re in a crisis in this state,” Weber said. “As legislators, we must move forward to make sure we respond to this issue.”

At the heart of the dispute was AB 66’s provision requiring officers to give initial statements about incidents involving lethal force before they can view body camera footage. Proponents said that would build trust in communities where many people believe officers tailor incident reports to shield themselves from consequences.

“We believe the public has more faith in the process if the officer doesn’t watch the video prior,” Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent said.

But numerous law enforcement officers and lobbyists castigated the rule, saying it would deny officers an important tool for verifying what had happened in incidents that often unfold rapidly and chaotically.

“This is when things get very blurry. Things happen very quickly,” said Tim Yaryan, a lobbyist for local law enforcement groups. “This is exactly and precisely when officers need to have that review.”

Facing that rift, committee Chairman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, called a quick recess so supporters and opponents could confer. They emerged with a compromise letting local police departments choose whether officers can view video first. After that did not garner enough votes on an initial attempt, Weber accepted more amendments dictating that all officers statewide can review footage first – unless their city or county has a pre-existing policy stating otherwise.

Law enforcement officials said Thursday that they support the use of body cameras – numerous local police chiefs testified that they already deploy them – but warned against a heavy-handed approach constraining local police departments.

“We don’t want an overreaching, one-size-fits-all,” Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams said, speaking on behalf of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.