Legislation taking effect on Monday July 1, 2019 sets a time limit for the release of body camera footage in serious incidents. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

New police transparency law sets time frame for release of body camera footage

Legislation by SF Assemblyman Phil Ting sets uniform policy for state police departments

A new state transparency law will take effect Monday that sets a short time frame for law enforcement across California to release body camera footage in serious cases, including police shootings.

Under Assembly Bill 748, law enforcement agencies will have to release the footage within 45 days of an “critical incident,” unless doing so would interfere with an investigation.

The legislation from Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, is intended to create a uniform process for releasing body camera footage and to help law enforcement build trust with communities.

“That trust can’t be built between communities and law enforcement unless the public can see the footage,” Ting said in a recent interview.

Ting said he modeled the legislation after a policy adopted last year by the Los Angeles Police Commission. The commission created the policy after the Los Angeles Police Department appeared to selectively release footage from police shootings depending on whether the suspect was armed.

“When push came to shove, it could just be denied just because they felt like it,” Ting said of requests for body camera footage.

A critical incident is defined as “an incident involving the discharge of a firearm at a person by a peace officer or custodial officer,” or “an incident in which the use of force by a peace officer or custodial officer against a person resulted in death or in great bodily injury.”

For the San Francisco Police Department, which already has a policy of releasing the footage “to the greatest extent possible,” the new law simply appears to set a timeline for the department.

The SFPD has released body camera footage in most police shootings since the department rolled out the devices in 2016.

“The San Francisco Police Department has been providing video footage regarding our officer involved shootings and will continue to do so as part of the public records process,” said Officer Joseph Tomlinson, a police spokesperson. “AB 748 should not change that process.”

Former Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation late late year at the same time as he signed Senate Bill 1421 from Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, requiring the release of internal records on police shootings, dishonesty and sexual assault.

That legislation went into effect Jan. 1 and has since resulted in releases of previously confidential documents from the SFPD and the Department of Police Accountability, San Francisco’s police watchdog.


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