California lawmakers have agreed to crack open the files when a police shooting occurs.
Two measures passed by the Legislature late Friday night would require the release of body camera footage and records related to shootings and deadly use-of-force incidents.
One bill would require video and audio from police body cameras and other law-enforcement recordings be released within 45 days of incidents — but only in cases where an officer fires a weapon, or kills or severely injures another person.
The measure, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and the California News Publishers Association, also allows law enforcement agencies to redact or withhold videos: if they can prove doing so outweighs the public interest of release, if the contents could impede an investigation or if it would violate someone’s privacy rights.
Despite those caveats, the measure would set the first definitive statewide disclosure standards for when departments must release body camera footage, after a series of bills have failed to pass over the last four years, amid opposition from law enforcement groups.
“This bill is a good bill,” said Democratic Asm. Sydney Kamlager-Dove. “This bill actually protects our men and women in law enforcement from specious claims. It limits liability and saves many of our cities from exorbitant cost of defending such claims.”
Law enforcement groups disagree with that assessment. The state’s police, sheriff and district attorneys associations all oppose it, while civil liberties and media groups support the measure.
“I think the advent of body cameras has created a very serious and substantive issue with respect to both the privacy of the public and of law enforcement personnel,” Republican Asm. Jay Obernolte said. “When we try and jam through this kind of legislation late in the session mistakes happen.”
The measure contains a drafting error, which proponents acknowledge is too late to fix, under recent changes to the legislative process adopted by voters in 2016. A provision of the bill contains a typo, calling for release of audio or video in cases where it would violate privacy or impede an investigation. The measure’s supporters say lawmakers can fix that language next year, before the new disclosure rules take effect in July.
Another measure would require disclosure of investigative records after a police shooting, use-of-force incident resulting in death or severe harm, or if an officer commits sexual assault, perjury or evidence tampering.
It also allows some delays in the release of the records, based on active lawsuits or investigations.
Both bills now head to Gov. Jerry Brown.
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