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Should police officers be allowed to view footage from their body cameras before they write reports for a prosecutor?

| Apr 2, 2015 | Firm News |

This law is well intended.  An officer is involved in an incident that involves an arrest.  The officer writes an arrest report.  In it they describe their observations and base their conclusions on the event.  The report gets submitted. 

An officer should not come back and tweak a report to what actually occurred.  If an officer is watching the video and seeing the events did not go as they thought or that it did capture something would they tweak their report to fit the video?  Would they do this if their job potentially may be on the line?

One of my biggest issues with the whole Ferguson investigation is the officer took weeks to write a report that normally takes 24 hours.  WhY?  It is because they wanted his narrative to be in line with other facts established.

The officer should just submit the report and let it be amongst the other facts in the case.  In most cases now, an officer writes a supplemental report that gives details of changes in the initial report.  I do not see why the officer cannot write the initial report and if they watch the video at a later time they describe in a supplemental report why they may have been wrong or give details in why they believed there was a certain fact.

Police to me make calls like referees in football.  There is a lot going on and sometimes they can be wrong.  It is not a conspiracy theory if they did get something wrong.  Events just happen fast.  The courtroom analysis is the red flag and instant replay to ensure the right call was made.

In this case the referree should not hold off on a call until they watch a video.

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Should police officers be allowed to view footage from their body cameras before they write reports for a prosecutor?

A debate over that question is brewing at the Capitol and across the nation as lawmakers consider standards for how officers should use the new technology.

On one side, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and civil rights advocates say police in California should not be permitted to view the footage early on because it’s not fair to criminal defendants and it’s not the intended use of the cameras. Weber has included the proposal in AB 66, her bill that would set statewide guidelines for police use of body cameras.

On the other side, agencies including the San Diego and Chula Vista police departments, say the proposal would unnecessarily hamstring their officers from submitting the most accurate reports possible.

That’s not a good enough reason, Weber said.

“The reports have always been based on what you saw … rather than, ‘OK, I forgot (the criminal defendant) had a joint hanging out of his pants.’ Things you didn’t see all of a sudden help create a case for you,” she said in a recent interview.

Weber said the primary role of body cameras is to de-escalate incidents between police and the general public, not to serve as a reference for officers as they write reports.

Her bill would set rules for when officers must notify people that they are being recorded; when an officer should turn the camera on or off; and how storage and access of camera footage should be managed.

The small devices are often attached to an officer’s chest, shoulder or sun glasses. They are quickly becoming part of the uniform for police in some, though not all, departments from San Diego to Oakland. Camera use has increased amid, and often in response to, national protests over police brutality.

Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said the question of whether to allow officers to view the footage before writing reports is being debated across the nation.

For the 60 Chula Vista police officers who hit the streets in January with body cameras, and all that follow, Bejarano said he wants them to be able to view the video early on.

“I think it’s important to have an accurate, factual report,” he said. “(Without this ability), it could be a disadvantage. Incidents happen very quickly. Officers are multi-tasking. We’re all human. We might miss something.”

While many of the police agencies now using body cameras allow officers to view the video footage, some do not. Officers with the Oakland Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s jail deputies are prohibited from doing so, according to policies cited by the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

Preventing police the video-first approach will encourage officers to truthfully write their reports the first time, said Chauncee Smith, a racial justice advocate at the ACLU of California.

“You would want the officer’s unbiased reaction,” Smith said.

He added that there’s an element of fairness in not allowing police to view the videos: “That’s the position that a criminal defendant is put in when they’re interrogated. You can’t have it both ways.”

San Diego Police Officer Brian Marvel, who is president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said his association “completely disagrees with” blocking officers from watching the footage.

He said an officer could potentially be sued and lose their job for forgetting a minor event that’s then replayed on a video in court.

Marvel stopped short of saying the provision was a deal breaker for his group’s support of Weber’s proposed statewide standards.

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to work with her,” Marvel added. “We may have to agree to disagree.”

Currently, the San Diego Police Department has 600 officers equipped with body cameras, among the most in the nation. SDPD intends to have nearly 1,000 officers using the cameras by the end of the year.

Since the cameras have been used, there have been fewer complaints from residents about police and less use of force by officers, according to a city report released Wednesday.2/25

Complaints have fallen 40.5% and use of “personal body” force by officers has been reduced by 46.5% and use of pepper spray by 30.5%, according to the report. The study was developed by the Police Department for the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.

Weber’s bill is expected to be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee later this spring.

If you are charged with a San Diego DUI or other Criminal offense, you need to call our firm immediately. We are available to take action on your case today. Please email or call us at 858-751-4384 or email me at [email protected] to schedule a free consultation. The key is to be proactive.

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