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Police body camera transparency bill voted down

June 1, 2016

Members of the California Assembly Wednesday voted down a bill to allow public access to some police body camera footage .

The legislation from Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) would allow the public to request police body camera footage in incidents where officers were accused of excessive use-of-force, including police-involved shootings, two months after an investigation began. Under the bill, a judge could withold the footage in cases that led to an officer’s criminal prosecution.

Quirk said he was motivated by circumstances surrounding the Chicago police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald. City officials didn’t release video of the shooting until 13 months after it happened. The officer involved was charged with murder in the hours after the video’s posting.

“To not release this is a great insult to the idea that body-worn cameras increase trust in police departments,” Quirk said.

His bill fell 15 votes short of passage. There was no debate on the floor. He has asked his colleagues to reconsider the vote, but the bill faces a deadline of the end of the week to pass the Assembly.

Assuming lawmakers don’t change their minds, Quirk’s bill would be the second measure in as many weeks that would have increased public access to law enforcement records to fail.

Last Friday, a Senate committee killed a measure from Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) that would have opened up some internal records of police misconduct to public disclosure. There now are no bills pending in the Legislature that would substantially boost transparency of law enforcement records.

Three other police body camera bills are still alive this session. Legislation from Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) would require officers to view camera footage before writing their reports. It also faces a Friday deadline to pass the Assembly. Bills from Democratic Assemblymen Evan Low of Campbell and Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles would further limit access to camera footage. They’ve both passed the Assembly and are awaiting action in the Senate.

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