Policy for Release of Police Body Cam Video Moves Forward

Group drafting policy consists of members from San Diego Police Chiefs' and Sheriffs' Association

A rough draft of a policy detailing how local law enforcement body camera video will be released to the public is being shared with local officers and law enforcement agency attorneys, and could be shared with the public by the end of March, the president of the group responsible for drafting the policy said Friday.

Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter is the President of the San Diego Police Chiefs’ and Sheriff’s Association, the group responsible for working on the draft.

Carter would not reveal details of the draft policy, but said the San Diego County District Attorney's Office would be the only agency that would release video. He also told NBC 7 Investigates, video will only be released if there are no criminal charges filed against an officer.

“The DA would most likely call a press conference, show the video or a specific portion of that video and then blur out the faces of the officers and victims so they could have privacy,” Carter said.

In December, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said local law enforcement leaders would develop a policy on the public release of body cam and other video evidence. Since then, the San Diego Police Chiefs' and Sheriff's Association has been drafting the new policy in their monthly meetings.

Click here to see a list of Association members.

NBC 7 Investigates asked Chief Carter and the DA’s office for a copy of the draft policy, but the request was denied. In an email, Steve Walker, spokesman for the DA’s office, said a copy could not be provided because “it’s constantly evolving.”

The discussion of developing a policy in San Diego County was spurred when local news outlets went to court to obtain surveillance video of a fatal Midway District shooting by a San Diego police officer. The judge granted the media's request to release the video and the DA's office made the video public at a December news conference.

At that news conference, Dumanis said prosecutors are bound by the law to protect the integrity of investigations, which she said generally prohibits them from releasing any evidence.

“But I also realize that times have changed,” she told reporters. “We live in a world where all kinds of video evidence is becoming more prevalent and it’s being shared in ways that go viral in minutes. We clearly need to reevaluate when and how this kind of video is responsibly released.”

Carter said a rough draft of the policy was sent to local police chiefs to be shared with officers and their attorneys. He said he hopes to get their suggestions back by March 14 to send to the DA's office.

Walker said the public will get the chance to give their input on the policy. Carter said that could happen as early as the end of March.

Carter told NBC 7 Investigates a specific time frame for when video is released will be included in the policy.

“When we talk about how soon (body camera video) will be released that depends on the complexity of the shooting,” Carter said. “What we are looking for is trying to get our officer-involved shooting cases to the district attorney’s office within 90 days. That’s from the moment of the shooting to putting the case in the district attorney's hands.”

As far as how long it would take to release the video to the public, Carter said it again would depend on the shooting.

“If everything goes according to plan, we would get it out as quickly as possible and not wait a year or longer to get that out,” he said.

When Dumanis made the announcement of a “working group” to draft a policy for the release of body camera video, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties provided this statement to NBC 7 Investigates:

"The purpose of access to public records is to hold government accountable to the community. Given the extraordinary and deadly powers vested in law enforcement, that principle applies especially to police videos. It is therefore essential that community members participate in a transparent process to establish the protocol for disclosure of body-camera videos. To open that process is a first step toward building community trust in law enforcement, which is undermined by secrecy and exclusion."

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