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Body Camera Legislation

September 1, 2020

When implementing a body camera or dash camera program, it is important that agencies read, understand, and comply with applicable laws. Some states do not have specific laws revolving around police cameras, while others like Minnesota (state statute 13.825) have had very clear and strict requirements for many years now. When these types of laws are passed, they sometimes only apply to new camera programs, while others apply even to existing programs. In certain cases, this has caused agencies to abandon the use of cameras, often due to cost or staffing concerns.

In Visual Labs’ home state of California, Assembly Bill 748 is arguably the most notable law in effect with respect to the disclosure of body camera footage. It requires agencies to release all camera footage (video and audio) relating to a “critical incident” within 45 days. As one might expect, there are exceptions to this rule, such as when disclosure would endanger the safety of a confidential source; however, those exceptional circumstances are fairly limited in scope. In addition, agencies must redact the footage to protect the privacy of relevant individuals. Prior to the passage of this bill, which went into effect on July 1, 2019, some agencies in California would not release body camera footage, and this was acceptable per department policy. The Los Angeles Police Department was one prominent agency that previously classified footage as investigative records not subject to public release. They revised their policy in 2018, around the time AB 748 was introduced.

In Southern California’s San Bernardino County, the Fontana Police Department has been using Visual Labs since the summer of 2017. On the morning of August 26, 2020, officers responded to a disturbance at a car dealership just north of the Interstate 10 freeway. While the primary officer originally held the subject at gunpoint, he ultimately used a less-lethal Taser to subdue the subject without incident. This critical incident video was released just one day later, well ahead of the timeframe established by law. Viewer discretion is advised.

Critical incident BWC video release: Fontana Police Department officers encounter a subject armed with a large metal pole/stake on August 26, 2020.

While agencies must of course abide by the law, in Fontana and elsewhere, the Chief of Police has discretion to also release videos that are not subject to public disclosure requirements. A video of one such incident was taken on November 27, 2019. Fontana Police Officer Josh MacMillan responded to a “man with a gun” call and was able to use de-escalation techniques to avoid a “suicide by cop” incident. Chief Billy Green prepared the below community briefing video. Again, viewer discretion is advised.

Community Briefing regarding a significant incident on November 27, 2019.

Since California AB 748 was passed, other body camera laws have been proposed and passed. One example is California AB 1215, which prohibits the use of facial recognition with respect to body camera footage.

As state laws, penal codes, and evidence codes rapidly evolve, agencies and body camera vendors must work together to be sure all necessary requirements are met. The summer of 2020 has resulted in a variety of state laws passed in an unusually quick manner (e.g. Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico), so it is now especially important to stay on top of new requirements. Fortunately, the Visual Labs software platform makes it simple for agencies to make system configuration changes (e.g. retention policies, muting) within minutes as the legislative landscape evolves.

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