If Signed, State Bills Could Bring Transparency in Police Custody Death

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The National City Police Department and the family of Earl McNeil are waiting to see if Governor Jerry Brown will sign two measures into law that could change the way law enforcement conducts investigations in the future.

The first bill would open police officer records. The second bill (AB748) would release body cam video after 45 days, something the family of McNeil, an inmate who died after 16 days in National City Police custody, are hopeful about.

Mark Lane, the family’s spokesman, has been asking the department for the body camera footage for more than three months. Lane says they want the footage and information regarding McNeil’s arrest and eventual death.

National City Police say they won’t release the footage until they finish investigating.

“The level of frustration is pretty high,” Lane says about the family. “Our police departments, in general, don’t realize that they work for us. We’re not serfs in their fiefdom.”

Lane says the bills would make police departments far more transparent than they are now. “Transparency can happen. Trust is built on transparency,” he says.

Roger Clark, a police procedures consultant, agrees. “At first glance, I think they’re good and I think they’re necessary,” he said of the bills.

Clark is a retired LA Country Sheriff’s deputy. He says police departments need to be transparent, but there is a gray area. “There should be a voice for the officer,” he adds. He also says video and information shouldn’t be released if it could jeopardize an investigation or pose a threat to an officer or someone else in the video. He suggests giving officers a chance to protect themselves or the investigation, “to be able to speak up and input something before that kind of release of date.”

There is no word on when Governor Brown will consider signing the bills, if at all.

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