A police accountability bill moving through the California state legislature aims to keep officers honest by introducing a strict set of body camera guidelines, including a provision preventing them from viewing their own footage following an officer-involved incident.
Passed yesterday in a 5 to 1 vote by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, AB 66, introduced by democrat Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber, would require police departments that have approved the use of “body-worn cameras” for officers to abide by a host of restrictions.
The bill reinforces the requirement that “peace officers” activate their cameras when responding to calls, and also mandates officers keep their cameras “fully functional… prior to going into the field.”
One of the more contentious restrictions involves police being unable to review their footage prior to writing up their reports.
“The bill would authorize a peace officer to review his or her body-worn camera video only after making his or her initial statement and report in an administrative or criminal inquiry or investigation,” the most recent version of the bill’s amended text states.
Weber says the bill is intended as a response to the perceived increase of officer-involved shootings involving minorities.
“Although we are cautiously optimistic about the potential for increased safety and accountability of those operating and being recorded by body-worn cameras, we recognize that communities of color and law enforcement relations also need to establish better relations,” the District 79 assemblywoman stated.
But law enforcement groups are skeptical of the provision that keeps cops from viewing their footage, claiming it will only lead to inaccurate police reports.
“We are after the truth. We are after accuracy. We are not here to get in a ‘gotcha’ game with officers,” Timothy Yaryan, a attorney advocating on behalf of police stated.
Despite opposition, lawmakers remain convinced the bill will bring about greater accountability and increase public trust.
That fact that police are opposed to the bill “gives the impression that you want to protect the 1%, and that’s not what you want to do,” Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer argued.
“The goal here is to not only improve relations between police officers and civilians, but also to protect both parties from cases of abuse,” the Assemblyman said in op-ed in February.
The assemblyman also supports AB 65, a bill seeking the creation of a “Body-worn Camera Fund,” which would be used to “purchase body-worn cameras and related equipment by local peace officers.”
Last year, police body-cam footage was used to indict two Albuquerque police officers for murder after they shot and killed 38-year-old homeless camper James Boyd. The case is still pending litigation.
A Justice Department study last year involving the Rialto Police Department suggested a “60 percent reduction in officer use of force incidents following camera deployment.”