As I have written before, Police agencies across the country have begun outfitting officers with cameras as an attempt to regain the public’s trust. It has been shown that the San Diego Police Department’s (SDPD) use of body cameras on officers has resulted in fewer complaints from the public. However, while complaints against officers fell 23% between July 2014 and June 2015 instances of force increased 10% in the same time period, according to an SDPD report. It is not known why. Currently, 871 officers across the department wear cameras. However, the report only analyzed data from the Southeastern, Central, and Mid-City division (the only departments that have used body cameras for a full year).
Recently, the California Western School of Law in downtown San Diego held a forum with San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, the ACLU, law students, and members of the general public on whether body camera footage should be publicly available. The SDPD takes the position that privacy issues outweigh expectations that a police agency would release footage of a controversial event, such as use of force by an officer. SDPD’s 15-page body camera policy requires officers to hit “record” when they are about to encounter a member of the public. Public access to police body-worn camera videos continues to be part of the national discussion over police use of force.
Public Records Requests
With body camera video more common either voluntarily or mandated by law, criminal defense attorneys will be able utilize the more-accessible footage to gain evidence to aid in your case. Whether or not body camera footage will be publicly available, the California Public Records Act § 6250 et seq allows for members of the public to request records from a state agency such as a police department.
Public records in the California Public Records Act are defined as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Specifically, while individual’s ‘rap sheets or arrest records are exempt from disclosure due to privacy, information in the “police blotter” (e.g. time and circumstances of calls to police; name and details of arrests, warrants, charges, hearing dates, etc.) must be disclosed. While identifying data in police personnel files and misconduct complaints are exempt, disclosure may be obtained using special procedures under Evidence Code section 1043. Continue reading