by Dish Staff
Here in San Diego, our scandal-plagued police department has begun outfitting some officers with body cameras, and the City Council has approved a plan to roll out hundreds more. Officers wearing the cameras were present during at least two shootings earlier this year. Yet we’re still not any closer to knowing what happened in those chaotic moments—whether the perpetrators can be easily identified, what kind of interactions the officers had with those present, nothing.
That’s because the department claims the footage, which is captured by devices financed by city taxpayers and worn by officers on the public payroll, aren’t public records. Our newsroom’s request for footage from the shootings under the California Public Records Act was denied. Once footage becomes part of an investigation, the department says it doesn’t have to release them. SDPD also said during the pilot phase of the camera program that it doesn’t even have to release footage from the cameras after an investigation wraps.
Kriston Capps sees limits to what police cameras can accomplish in Ferguson:
A survey of the available research conducted by the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center shows that most of the claims about police body cameras have not been fully tested, while many of the consequences for law-enforcement agencies, labor unions, and communities have not even been explored.
But city leaders have other, better, more immediate options if they truly want to “demonstrate the transparency of our city departments.” Namely, leaders in Ferguson should require officers to put their badges back on their vests and ask the Federal Aviation Administration to put the news choppers back in the air.
T.C. Sottek expresses more skepticism:
Body cameras would be a welcome improvement for many in Ferguson, but even dash cameras, used by other police departments across the United States, haven’t been installed there. The city’s police chief revealed last week that the department purchased two dash cameras and body cameras, but never installed them due to cost.
Scott Shackford, for his part, thinks cameras may help. He points out that Rialto, California “has made national news for making officers wear vest cameras, reducing the use of force by police and complaints against the police.” Earlier Dish on the cameras-for-cops debate here.