Counties and cities in California are all over the map on how much — if at all — police and sheriff’s departments allow law enforcement body-camera recordings to be made public. In fact, the current exemptions to the California Public Records Act allow law enforcement agencies to ban all access to such recordings if they so choose.
However, under Assembly Bill 748, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, the Public Records Act would be clarified to require the disclosure of audio or video records that involve a matter of public concern, which would include the use of force or an incident in which a police officer violated the law or an agency policy.
Law enforcement agencies would still be allowed to withhold the records if an internal investigation is under way, but that exemption would be limited to 120 days. This would address a growing problem of police agencies withholding recordings indefinitely, even after investigations are completed.
The bill passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee last week on a 5-2 vote and is expected to come to the floor for a vote after the Legislature returns from its summer recess. Body-camera recordings have proven to be a beneficial tool in holding both the public and law enforcement accountable for their actions. But trust is eroded if agencies are select about what recordings are disclosed. This bill would set a positive standard of compliance for all agencies, and it deserves a thumbs up from all legislators.