By Sean Van Leeuwen
Assembly Bill 1940, (Cooper-D) is currently in the California Senate and is legislation which ALADS supports. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to develop policies and procedures for regulating body-worn cameras for peace officers and contains sensible requirements for those policies, which include privacy protections for the public.
As I wrote in a previous blog, body-worn cameras and in-car video will be commonly employed by law enforcement throughout California in the not too distant future. However, opinions on what policies should be implemented regarding when and how the videos can be viewed by peace officers in connection with writing reports vary widely.
ALADS strongly believes and AB 1940 mandates that a peace officer should be allowed to review their body-worn camera video and audio recordings before writing a report, giving an internal affairs statement, or before any criminal or civil proceeding. AB 1940 would also require a law enforcement agency to have an assigned independent investigator or supervisor accompany a peace officer involved in an incident involving a serious use of force when reviewing the peace officer’s body-worn camera recording.
ALADS supports AB 1940 because it allows peace officers to access all available evidence before writing their report. This will ensure that deputy sheriffs can document incidents as completely and accurately as possible. The purpose of writing reports is straightforward: to accurately document events to allow detectives and prosecutors to determine what charges to file based on the facts contained in the report and for a law enforcement agency to have an accurate recitation for their records and review. AB 1940 states, “This access ensures accuracy in memory recall and serves the best interest of public and law enforcement relations and the judicial processes.”
Allowing deputies and police officers to review their video before writing their report enables them to create accurate and complete reports and to recall details or at least account for events or facts they didn’t perceive or are unable to remember. The U.S. Department of Justice has recommended law enforcement officers review footage from body-worn cameras before writing reports stating, “Reviewing footage aids officer recollection and leads to more accurate documentation of events.” We at ALADS couldn’t agree more.
The California Chiefs of Police, California State Sheriffs’ Association, and management officials from some law enforcement agencies across California have shockingly come out in opposition to this bill. Why? Perhaps they don’t want more accurate documentation of events. Or, perhaps they disagree with the U.S. Department of Justice. It appears that they do not view camera devices as implements to ensure that reports are accurate and complete when describing events and view them as tools for some other purpose.
Opponents of AB 1940 appear to have adopted the ACLU line of reasoning that cameras are “gotcha devices” to allow departments to monitor peace officers and look for perceived misbehavior by police, instead of a valuable evidence gathering device. That reasoning is exemplified by the comments of a police executive who stated, “in terms of the officer’s statement, what matters is the officer’s perspective at the time of the event, not what is in the video.” Really? This is akin to saying we don’t care about the truth. Would this executive support officers not interviewing all witnesses to an event and including their statements in a report?
If what we want is quality law enforcement investigations, the best practice is to ensure that when a report is written regarding an incident, it is as accurate as possible and references any and all facts or evidence available at the time the report is written. Many people; investigators, prosecutors, even defense lawyers and defendants must make critical decisions based on what is written in a report. It is ridiculous that some people would prefer reports be incomplete because footage from cameras which may capture critical evidence cannot be viewed before a police report documenting the incident is written. That’s not opinion, that’s just good police work.
We strongly encourage the legislature to pass AB 1940 and for the Governor to then sign the legislation into law.
Sean Van Leeuwen is Vice President of Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. ALADS is the collective bargaining agent and represffs and district attorney investigators working in Los Angeles County. Sean can be reached at Svanleeuwen@alads.org. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs is a founding member of PubSecAlliance.