Capitol Alert

Another California body-camera bill founders

Sgt. Dan Gomez of the Los Angeles Police Department wears a new body camera last year.
Sgt. Dan Gomez of the Los Angeles Police Department wears a new body camera last year. Los Angeles Times file

Assembly Democrats on Monday turned back legislation giving California police departments wide discretion in crafting policies governing body cameras.

A national debate over police violence has pushed California policymakers to introduce a number of bills dealing with law enforcement practices, including several seeking to equip police officers with body-worn cameras that can record interactions with civilians.

But state lawmakers can claim little success, as Monday’s defeat of Senate Bill 175 indicated. The measure, by Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, would require local police departments choosing to use body cameras to develop policies for their use, but would leave the details to them.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, whose bill imposing statewide body-camera standards foundered in the face of law enforcement opposition, called SB 175 “a shell that has no content in it that’s significant.”

“This bill, with all of its efforts, is really an anemic response to the crisis that we face,” Weber said. “If it is the best we can do, we should be ashamed of ourselves.”

The failure of Weber’s and Huff’s bills underscore the Legislature’s struggles to successfully regulate body cameras this year. A bill allocating more money to equip officers with cameras died earlier this year. Still alive is Assembly Bill 69, which would establish a number of factors local law enforcement agencies should consider as they regulate body cameras, but would not require any specific standards.

The push for more body cameras has included a debate over how police departments regulate their use. Some argue the state should not be telling local peace officers how to do their jobs.

“This is important that we give our local communities the confidence they deserve in crafting their own policy,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, who jockeyed the Huff bill in the Assembly Monday. “The one-size-fits-all oversight sends the wrong message.”

But a number of Democrats assailed that approach as too weak, saying more stringent statewide standards would restore wavering confidence in police officers and avoid a confusing array of differing local rules. Just seven of the 52 Assembly Democrats voted for the bill, which stalled on a 34-3 vote with 43 members not voting.

“It will be far short of the accountability the individuals will expect,” warned Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, one of multiple Democrats who urged their colleagues to withhold support. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, called the measure “half-baked.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert