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When Should Police Release Body Camera Videos?

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California lawmakers are renewing a debate about who should have access to the videos from body cameras worn by police officers.

Police and civil rights advocates disagree about the use of the footage.

Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney says they’re for criminal investigations and need to be sealed.

"Body camera footage is no different than a written report in that it is an investigative record," says Corney, who also heads the California Police Chief Association. "Although it is a document produced by a public agency, it is exempt from disclosure."

The association opposes a bill that passed the Assembly Judiciary committee on Tuesday. The bill creates a process for releasing videos when an officer kills or seriously injures someone.

Kevin Baker of the American Civil Liberties Union California supports that bill; he says the videos aren’t just to investigate suspects.

"The body cameras can be an effective tool in capturing the activities of law enforcement,"When things go awry, we also want to know what’s taken place, and the body camera footage can be good evidence of that."

Many local governments have adopted body cameras as a response to heightened scrutiny about the way police interact with minority communities they serve. That’s also led to privacy concerns, and there’s no statewide policy governing the cameras’ use.

An effort to create one last year fell apart, amid opposition from law enforcement groups.

Committees also passed legislation that would allow officers to object to disclosure of footage that could lead to their harassment.

On Wednesday, lawmakers are expected to take up bills that would allow police to review body camera footage before writing their recollections of an incident and to prevent the release of videos showing an officer’s death.

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