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Major Shift on Police: Cops Will Have to Release Body Camera Footage and Records on Bad Behavior

Photo from the L.A. Taco photo archives

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n a massive 180-turn, California is on course to transform from one of the most secretive to one of the most transparent states when it comes to releasing records on police misconduct. 

State legislators late Friday approved two landmark measures designed to grant the public access to internal investigations of police shootings and release body cam footage of major incidents. The bills show a reverse of course for the state, which has long been one of the most veiled on the issue.

Advocates of the measures hope to build confidence in California law enforcement in the wake of repeated police killings of civilians. Los Angeles has a long history of police brutality and the legacy of the Rodney King trial is still felt to this day. Groups like Black Lives Matter played a pivotal role in the visibility of these incidents and applying public pressure to legislators, according to people involved.

Dash and Body Camera footage from the Trader Joe's shooting July 21, 2018.

The visibility bill, Senate Bill 1421 authored by Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), unravels the confidentiality law passed in 1978 by giving the public access to police records. This includes “investigations of officer shootings and other major force incidents, along with confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty.”

The current California law favors confidentiality surrounding misconduct records, denying both the public and prosecutors access. The measure will hold the parties involved responsible and dismantle veil of secrecy. The bills still need Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval. He previously signed the 1978 measure which currently governs the issue.

A separate bill is giving the public access to body camera footage on a broader scale. The body camera measure, Assembly Bill 748, would require the release of “footage of most officer shootings and misconduct within 45 days, so long as it does not interfere with an ongoing investigation.”

Assembly Bill 748 mirrors the LAPD’s recently implemented policy to release videos within a similar timeframe.

Some believe that the bill does not value the privacy of the officers involved. Groups like The Peace Officers Research Assn. of California and the Los Angeles Police Protective League argue it would only further punish officers. But the California Police Chiefs Association actually announced support for the bill after the scope of the bill was narrowed some.

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