Officer Review of Body-Camera Footage Debated in the Assembly

April and May are typically two of the busiest months of the year for the California Legislature. Every bill must go through a policy committee (Public Safety, Judiciary or Health Committee, for example) before being heard in Appropriations Committee (if the bill has a price tag), and is then debated on the floor of its respective house.

The deadline for fiscal bills to pass out of policy committees was May 1, and the deadline for nonfiscal bills to pass out of policy committees was May 15. Now, all bills heard in Appropriations Committee must be heard by May 29, and those that successfully pass out of Appropriations must pass off of the floor of their house of origin by June 6.

Due to the time constraints of such a deadline schedule, many bills are heard in special hearings and amended very shortly before being heard in their next hearing. This means that dozens of bills are amended every day and therefore must be carefully reviewed by PORAC leadership to ensure that none of the amendments would negatively affect public safety. Thankfully, our team is able to work with PORAC leadership, especially President Mike Durant, multiple times daily to work through all of these amendments.

Bills that fail these legislative deadlines become two-year bills and are dead until the second year of the two-year session that begins in January. In total, 2,560 bills have been introduced and are at some point in the legislative process. We will have a clearer picture of how many bills failed the first set of deadlines after June 5.

Below are updates on two recently amended bills that PORAC has been working on relating to body-worn cameras and CCW permits on school campuses.

AB 66 by Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego): Peace officers: body-worn cameras: AB 66 is the main body-camera bill introduced this year. PORAC has been in meetings with Assembly Member Weber’s staff for months regarding this issue.

In a special hearing of the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee held prior to the policy committee deadline, President Durant and our ARA team were in attendance to testify. President Durant was the only rank-and-file law enforcement association leader in the hearing room. He has participated in all the conversations with all the members.

This was one of the oddest hearings in recent memory and has been the talk of the Capitol in the weeks following.

The bill had been amended four times prior to the Privacy Committee hearing. PORAC had remained actively opposed, particularly to the section prohibiting officers from reviewing the body camera footage prior to writing a report on incidents involving “serious use of force.”

Based on our strong opposition and discussion with members, we believed that we had the votes necessary to stall the bill in committee, giving us time to work through those concerns. This was demonstrated vividly when many members of the committee asked pointed questions and many of the members stated that they could not vote for it.

After it became clear that Assembly Member Weber did not have the sufficient number of votes to pass the bill, Chair/Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), who has voiced support for our position on reviewing camera footage prior to writing a report, called a five-minute recess and convened a meeting across the hall that included both supporters and opponents.

We discussed our position and what was important to PORAC. Many changes were agreed to; however, we were unhappy with an amendment that said review of the camera footage would be left to local control and therefore, each local agency could decide on its own. PORAC wanted an affirmative statement in the bill allowing officers to review the footage, thus removing our need to have to negotiate with 400 cities and 58 counties over that issue.

After much debate, the committee resumed and a second vote was taken. There were still insufficient votes to pass the bill, which led to another recess, this time in the committee room, with the Chair ordering that the doors be locked by the sergeants so that no one could leave until the issue was resolved.

In the end, our amendment was accepted, allowing officers to review the footage, with a carve-out for those agencies that have current policies in place that may not allow it. Therefore, with the exception of grandfathering a few agencies, such as Oakland and Richmond, the policy in statute going forward will be that officers will have the right to review the footage.

The committee resumed again and another roll call was taken. This time, the bill received the requisite number of votes necessary to pass. The final vote was 6-0, with five members abstaining (all four of the Republican members and Democrat Jim Cooper, a retired sheriff’s deputy). Jim Cooper was an all-star in the hearing. He asked pointed questions and brought into play his 30 years of being a street cop. We also applaud Assembly Members Matt Debabneh, Evan Low, Ian Calderon and Chair Mike Gatto for their great help in making this a better bill.

There are a number of other amendments related to tightening access to recording under the California Public Records Act, strengthening protections for informants, tightening provisions dealing with recording in private homes, etc. We are continuing to work with legislators and staff to create a bill that will be workable for all of our officers on the streets.

SB 707 by Senator Wolk (D-Davis): Gun-free school zones: Initially, this legislation prohibited CCW holders and retired law enforcement officers from possessing firearms on the grounds of a K-12 school or university. After the author introduced the bill, PORAC met with Wolk’s staff to address our concerns with barring former officers from carrying their concealed weapons on campus. Should a dangerous situation occur, we want these highly trained former officers to have the tools necessary to respond. After discussions with Senator Wolk and her staff, amendments were made to eliminate the ban. PORAC is now in support of this legislation, which will be heard on the Senate floor.