Police May Lose Access to Own Videos

Imagine that you are asked to write a factual report based upon your ability to recollect an event in time. Now imagine that you are asked to write the same report, but you are given a video of the incident to help you recall the series of events as they happened. Consider that your report is considered legally binding in a court of law. Which method of writing would you be more comfortable with?

This is what police officers in California may soon be facing. Currently, police officers are given access to body camera footage prior to being tasked with the assignment of writing arrest or incident reports. If a new bill passes, access to that footage may be limited.

Thanks to incidents such as those that have recently made headlines in Cleveland and, more recently, Baltimore, calls for law enforcement to be equipped with working body cameras have become louder than ever before. It is believed that the recording of incidents can provide both accountability and transparency. What is being questioned, however, is how often the reports fall in line with the footage and, in some cases, how many officers are changing their reports to match the footage.

One of the biggest supporters of the new California bill is Police Chief Sean Whent of the Oakland Police Department. The bill would limit the time frame in which an officer is permitted to view his or her camera’s footage. According to Whent, it is more important to know what the officer recalls than what he or she sees on the video. Why is it so important to get a clear picture of what an officer recalls? Because it goes to state of mind at the time of the incident.

Opponents of the bill, including many police officers and their unions, call it absurd. According to those against the measure, it is a slap in the face and equates to calling cops liars. Allowing police to view footage prior to writing their reports aids in the accuracy of those reports. It does not aid officers in changing their stories.

Will some cops tailor their reports based upon footage? Sure. There are bad employees in every sector. But will the majority? Most likely not. Law enforcement officers are well aware that there can be other footage out there than only what is shown from their own point of view. To tailor an arrest or incident report based solely upon body camera footage would be foolish.

Currently, police around the state continue to have access to footage prior to writing reports or giving testimony. Accept in Oakland, a city that has set its own limits.

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