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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Police Body Camera Videos in San Diego Will Stay Private — at Least for Now

With all the news about police use of force, it's important to discus the use of body worn video in the context of the individual agency's policy. As a San Diego news outlet recently found out, just because there's video doesn't mean you'll ever get to see it.

"We filed a public records request for the videos. The department declined to release them, saying they were part of an investigation. The department said it didn’t have to release them even after the investigations ended, and gave no indication the footage would become public.

That raises a significant question: How useful could the cameras be at reassuring the community about serious police incidents when no one’s allowed to see what they capture?"

That was several months ago. In recent days, the policy hasn't changed. SDPD says, affirmatively, that the cameras are for evidence and not for transparency. This is consistent with SDPD's policy.

It seems, from the news reports, that the folks down there sold the public and the politicians on the concept of body worn cameras as a transparency tool.

"Indeed, transparency was a major argument when Zimmerman’s predecessor, William Lansdowne, began his public push for the cameras.

“What the camera does is a visual and verbal recording of contacts between the Police Department,” Lansdowne said in January. “Everybody gets to look at them and find out if they’re acting correctly and properly. It protects the officers as well as the citizens.”

The public wanted a transparency tool. They got an evidence recording device. As always, the devil's in the details.

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