Lawmakers, police officers disagree on body camera rules

Marchers prepare to head out during the start of what is being called the "March 2 Justice" from Staten Island to Washington, D.C. on Monday in New York City.
Marchers prepare to head out during the start of what is being called the “March 2 Justice” from Staten Island to Washington, D.C. on Monday in New York City.
(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Despite opposition from law enforcement groups, a state Assembly panel approved legislation Tuesday that would set strict rules for police officers wearing body cameras, including a prohibition on officers reviewing video footage before they make their initial statement on use-of-force incidents.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) said she introduced the measure to “to ensure the public’s trust in law enforcement” after a series of recent police shootings of unarmed African American men.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee voted 5-1 to approve the measure, which sets statewide standards for use by law enforcement agencies that decide to require their officers to wear body cameras.


However law enforcement groups, including the Los Angeles Police Protective League and the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, opposed one provision viewed as a “poison pill.”

The provision says that when a peace officer is involved in a use-of-force incident resulting in injury or death, the officer may review his or her body-worn camera video only after making his or her initial statement.

Timothy Yaryan, an advocate for the law enforcement groups, said allowing officers to look at the video before writing the initial report means the report will be more accurate.

“We are after the truth. We are after accuracy. We are not here to get in a ‘gotcha’ game with officers,” Yaryan told the panel. He noted the federal Department of Justice recommends officers be allowed to view videotape before writing reports.

Weber said there is concern in the community that officers may change their story if they can look at the video before filing a report. “At least it restores the trust in the community [to know] that they didn’t see the video and modified what happened,” Weber said.

Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said 99% of police officers may do the right thing, but the opposition from law enforcement groups to the bill “gives the impression that you want to protect the 1%, and that’s not what you want to do.”

Jones-Sawyer, who is chairman of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said he met Monday with Gov. Jerry Brown and asked for approval of a $5-million pilot program to put body cameras on members of the California Highway Patrol. He said the state needs to move quickly to provide such cameras.

“When I see an African American male gunned down in the prime of his life it bothers me,” Jones-Sawyer said during the hearing. “It bothers me because its personal.”

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