SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Police body cameras have been touted as the solution to everything from racial profiling to officer misconduct.
Even as the San Diego Police Department moves forward with the purchase of hundreds of body cameras, currently there is no policy is in place to define exactly who gets to see the video.
In most cases, it appears the body camera video will not be made public, as SDPD has declined to release the video under the state’s public records law.
Officers in the department’s Central Division have been testing ten body cameras since January. Some of the cameras attach to the officer’s body; others can be attached to a collar or eyeglass frame.
“A lot of people ask if I have Google glasses,” said SDPD Officer David Peplowski. “Most of the contacts have been pretty positive. They like that we have them.”
The body cams record both video and audio. Officers have the ability to turn the cameras on and off when interacting with the public.
The department still is in the process of developing a policy that would require officers to roll video during most interactions with the public.
“In terms of intentionally not turning (the camera) on, that will be against policy. Those things will be addressed and discipline does become a part of that,” said SDPD Capt. Dan Christman.
Administrators are still negotiating body camera policies with the department’s labor union, the San Diego Police Officers Association.
“We are nearing the final part of the meet and confer on the policy. I don’t know where we are on potential discipline for violating that policy,” said Capt. Christman.
A 2012 study of the relatively small Rialto Police Department (with 115 officers) found the number of complaints filed against officers wearing body cameras fell 88 percent; while officer use of force fell by 60 percent.
“Everybody's behavior tends to get a little better,” said Capt. Christman.
“The citizen's behavior improves. The officer, of course, is fully aware that they're on camera,” said Christman.
The city of San Diego has allocated $1 million this fiscal year for the body camera program. Another $1 million is anticipated next year to expand the program. By the end of June 2014, SDPD hopes to have about 300 body cams in place at three divisions.
In March, the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee asked police Chief Shelley Zimmerman if the body camera video would be made public.
“We are still developing the policy, so we haven't made any decisions on this,” said Chief Zimmerman in her remarks before the committee.
CBS News 8 filed a public records request for copies of body cam videos recorded during routine SDPD patrols. The request specifically asked for body camera video that was not part of any ongoing investigation.
Our request was denied, as was a public records request filed by the online news magazine Voice of San Diego. The Voice requested body cam video that had captured two recent police shootings.
In both cases, SDPD attorneys claimed the videos were exempt from public disclosure as records of police investigations.
That exemption means the video would never be released, even after the completion of the investigation. Although, under state law, SDPD can voluntarily waive the exemption and make any video public.
“We don't currently release 911 tapes. We don't currently release video that's captured by our helicopter. So, there are a lot of considerations in how this will be released,” said SDPD Capt. Christman.
The police department did promise that whenever a citizen files a misconduct complaint, the video will be retained and investigated.
“If you make a complaint, that video will be there. If you go to court, that video will be there. When the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices reviews an investigation of misconduct, that video will be there,” said Christman.
But that type of policy is not okay with attorneys at San Diego’s ACLU. It would not allow victims of police misconduct to obtain copies of body camera video upon request.
“If you feel you have been mistreated or if you want to see the video footage of you, then you should be able to request that video be retained and that you obtain a copy of that footage,” said local ACLU attorney Kellen Russoniello.
If SDPD is unwilling to share body cam video with victims of potential police misconduct, the victim would have to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit to obtain the video.
“I think for building the trust between the community and the police, the police should be open to sharing the video with the subjects of it,” said Russoniello.
The organization would like to see officers disciplined in cases where they turn off the video camera in violation of policy, notice to citizens before video is recorded inside a private home, and officer misconduct video routinely released to the public with the victim's face tiled out.
“They could not listen to us and then down the line it will be either legal action or bad publicity to the department," said Russoniello. "So, it's in their best interest to listen to the policy recommendations that we have.” .
Local ACLU attorneys have met with SDPD in recent weeks but, officially, no policy recommendations have been finalized.