Police body camera use in California

California currently has no laws governing the use of police body cameras and has left the issue largely up to local police departments.

Many California residents who are stopped by police may have noticed that the officers were wearing body cameras. These cameras may be activated in a variety of situations. The reasons for using body cameras by police may vary but include the capture of what may eventually become evidence in a criminal case.

PoliceMisconduct.net, a project run by the Cato Institute, also explains that these cameras may provide valuable insight into potential abuse of power and force by officers and may even help to reduce instances of police misconduct.

Does California govern the use of police body cameras?

As explained by the Los Angeles Times, there are currently no state laws that govern the use of body cameras by police departments or other law enforcement entities. Over the past several years, there have been many occasions on which state lawmakers have attempted to create and pass legislation relating to these cameras, their use and the footage they capture. All such efforts, however, have failed to pass the legislature.

As such, the responsibility for identifying when cameras can or should be used and when footage can or should be released has fallen onto local law enforcement departments. Many of the state's larger police departments have worked with their police union to develop some standards regarding police body cameras and the footage. San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego are just some of the police departments that have taken this approach.

Are there privacy issues with police cameras?

Some people have raised the flag that filming situations may violate the privacy of those involved. Also a concern is the privacy of people in footage if that footage is released to the media. Issues have been debated as to whether or not video should be allowed in private residences, hospitals or other locations, for example.

What situations may warrant video capture?

Situations involving the detainment or arrest of a person, any use of force or any complaint by a citizen may be considered most appropriate for the use of footage. Some have suggested this footage should be flagged and footage that does not contain such things may be able to be deleted.

Can body cameras help reduce police violence?

A study conducted in one city in California from 2012 to 2013 did show that when compared to previous years in which body cameras were not used by officers, the use of force and the number of complaints both dropped dramatically. Whether or not this is completely attributable to the use of cameras is unknown but certainly reducing unnecessary force by officers could be a goal and reason to use the cameras.

What should I do if I am concerned about police video footage?

Anyone in California who has concerns about any footage in which they may be featured should contact an attorney. Discussing this issue with a legal professional is the best way to learn about one's rights.