SDPD, Addressing Police Misconduct, to Wear Body Cameras

 

After months of scandal, we are pleased to hear that the San Diego Police Department is taking steps towards addressing police misconduct. As announced today, many of SDPD’s officers will now wear body cameras. While body cameras can do much to protect both citizens and officers, we have serious concerns with what is and is not included in SDPD’s draft policies for body worn cameras, as well as for the process of implementation.

The draft policy states that “officers are not required to give notice they are recording. However, if asked, officers shall advise citizens they are being recorded.”

One of the purposes of body worn cameras is to improve both officer and citizen behavior; an opportunity that is missed if a person is not informed the interaction is being recorded. The policy should require officers, where practicable, to notify citizens they are being recorded in a language they understand, including use of information cards in different languages spoken throughout the city.

The policy does not delineate how a citizen can make sure a recording is flagged and obtain a copy. Any citizen who is the subject of a recording should have the ability to flag such recording and obtain a copy without filing a formal complaint. This is necessary to assure citizens trust the system and to realize the full potential that the cameras have for increasing police accountability.

No disciplinary actions are laid out for an officer who violates his/her duties under the policy. We recognize that it will take time to implement this change, but given the amount of control that individual officers will have over the cameras, the policy should be clear that transgressions will not go undealt with.

We are troubled by the process to date. The Department has been running a pilot project with body worn cameras and is asking for approval for funding to expand the program citywide without having released a final policy for their use. Without transparency and public input, the Department is missing an opportunity to build trust with the public and ensure that all concerns are taken into account. The policy as written and process of approval do not reflect the potential of body worn cameras as a tool for rebuilding trust between the Department and the public.

We strongly encourage the City Council to ensure that the final version of the policy includes these and other recommendations we have previously expressed. As a city, we must ensure adequate privacy protections and realize the full potential of body worn cameras as a tool to strengthen trust with the community.

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