20 Jul 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Body camera footage is playing a critical role in shedding light on what happened during the July 5 officer-involved shooting in Fullerton that resulted in the death of 17-year-old Hannah Williams, due to a new California law that I authored, AB748, which took effect July 1.
Modeled after the policy at the Los Angeles Police Department, AB748 requires law enforcement to release body camera footage within 45 days of a critical incident, which is defined as use of force that causes death or great bodily harm.
I commend the Fullerton Police Department for complying with the new law, releasing the video just a week after the tragic event.
It appears to show Cpl. Scott Flynn encountering Williams, who was holding what turned out to be a replica firearm and pointing it at the officer. Without knowing the gun was a fake, Flynn fired his weapon.
While the investigation continues into whether or not the officer’s actions were lawful, it’s apparent police behavior is now more difficult to keep secret, and that AB748 has ushered in a new era of police transparency and accountability. No longer can law enforcement agencies keep body camera footage from the public. Although 30-day delays are permitted with justification under my bill, no longer can police cite “pending investigation” as a reason to endlessly withhold video records.
With more and more agencies deploying body-worn cameras, AB748 provides consistency and clear standards so all Californians have the same access to their law enforcement’s body camera footage.
Prior to July 1, there was a patchwork of policies that didn’t always result in the public being able to see these recordings.
When details of a shooting are unknown, withholding the video undermines the public’s confidence in their law enforcement.
I believe we need transparency and public access to these recordings to help rebuild trust between police and the communities they serve. In addition, taxpayers paid for these body cameras; therefore, they should be able to see the contents.
As a follow up to AB748, I am also working on AB1215 this year to prohibit law-enforcement agencies from using facial recognition software in those body cameras.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]If this technology is allowed, body cameras essentially become roving 24-hour surveillance on citizens without their consent. To make matters worse, jurisdictions using the technology, such as the city of Detroit, for example, found it harbors racial biases against people of color. Likewise, when the American Civil Liberties Union put facial recognition to the test, it misidentified 28 members of Congress as people in a mugshot database.
There’s no way facial recognition is ready for prime time.
Let’s just stick to body cameras’ original purpose: to provide transparency and record active police encounters with community members.
Then allow the public to review any footage if critical incidents occur so they can determine whether all policies and procedures were followed.
This is what it means to live in an open society where our government is subject to scrutiny.
Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco and parts of northern San Mateo County.