This post has been updated.

When should an officer be allowed to review body camera footage? Before writing an incident report or after?

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department is set to start a 90-day test period for body-worn cameras next month. To prepare for the trial run, the department formulated a set of policies for the use of the cameras and the footage they capture. Last fall, the county’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, an independent oversight body that investigates complaints against county sheriff’s deputies and probation officers, reviewed the proposed policies and suggested three changes.

At the top of the list: Don’t allow deputies to review camera footage before writing reports.


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CLERB Executive Director Patrick Hunter would only say that the recommendation was the result of a discussion among board members after a Sheriff’s Department presentation on body cameras.

According to a Washington Post investigation, it’s the norm in departments nationwide to allow officers to review body camera footage, though some departments limit that review to certain types of cases. The Oakland Police Department, for instance, forbids deputies involved in use-of-force incidents from reviewing footage. San Jose requires officers involved in shootings to give an initial statement before reviewing footage. In San Francisco, the police chief has discretion over whether an officer involved in a use-of-force incident can first review footage.

Transparency advocates worry that allowing officers to review the footage before writing reports or speaking to investigators could cause them to tailor their statements to the video. The officer’s memory of the event on its own is an important piece of evidence. Officers, however, say that being allowed to review footage is the only way to get the most accurate version of events.

Where a law enforcement agency stands on this issue can say a lot about why it’s using the cameras in the first place, said Brian Buchner, president of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Are the cameras intended to be evidence-gathering tools, or is the goal to enhance public trust and officer accountability?

If it’s about evidence collection, Buchner said, then allowing officers to review video footage means more accurate reports.

“At the same time, allowing officers to view video in a use of force incident does not support better, more accurate investigations of the officer’s actions,” Buchner said. “In fact, it can potentially have the opposite effect and alter one critically important piece of evidence — the officer’s perception and what he or she knew at the time.”

Last year, San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber introduced a bill that would have prohibited law enforcement officers from viewing body camera footage before writing reports. But as the bill went through the committee process, it was re-written to actually allow officers to view the footage – a complete reversal, Weber’s communications director, Joe Kocurek, told VOSD in an email last year.

“We decided not to bring it to the Assembly floor like that and parked it in the appropriations committee. The vehicle is dead, but the policy is not. We’re committed to establishing statewide guidelines for their use,” Kocurek said.

When an officer should be allowed to review video footage became an issue in the April 30, 2015, shooting death of Fridoon Nehad by San Diego Police Officer Neal Browder. Nehad, who was mentally ill, was unarmed when Browder confronted him in an alley after police received calls about a man with a knife. Though it was surveillance video that captured the shooting — Browder failed to turn on his camera — the officer was allowed to review the surveillance video before writing his report. According to documents released by attorneys representing Nehad’s family, Browder’s story changed after he reviewed the video: He initially told investigators that Nehad wasn’t holding a weapon. Five days later, in his official statement and after reviewing the video, he said he’d seen “a metal object” in Nehad’s hand (one video angle shows Nehad twirling a pen).

The Sheriff Department’s interim policy says that “when necessary to ensure accuracy,” deputies may review footage from their own cameras, or another officer’s camera, prior to writing a report. But, “in Deputy involved shootings or situations where an investigation is being conducted,” the policy says, “the assigned investigative supervisor will determine when [body worn camera] video will be reviewed by those directly involved.”

CLERB made its recommendation in an Oct. 27 letter to Sheriff Bill Gore.

“CLERB recommends that deputies write their reports prior to reviewing any digital evidence, and then if necessary, submit supplemental or amended reports after the review,” the letter says.

The letter included two other policy recommendations: one on how long recordings are to be retained and another to memorialize in writing that CLERB investigators will get access to video footage relating to a complaint — Hunter said the board’s already received verbal assurances that they’d have access.

Hunter said CLERB has yet to receive a response but has been told that one is “forthcoming.” Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said a response should be ready within the next two weeks, but will first need to go to the department’s body-worn camera committee and then to the sheriff before being sent to CLERB.

Kellen Russoniello, a staff attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said the sheriff’s policy as written is better than the San Diego Police Department’s in that it gives supervisors discretion as to whether a deputy should be allowed to watch footage of a critical incident before writing a report. But, he agrees with CLERB’s recommendation.

“It could be better in that it shouldn’t be supervisor discretion,” he said. “You have to write the initial report before you review the video.”

As for body-worn cameras’ other hot-button issue — whether video will be made public — the sheriff’s interim policy says public release is prohibited “unless approved by the sheriff or his designee.”

Update: After the story was published, the Sheriff’s Department released additional details on its body-camera pilot program. Beginning Friday, Feb. 5, a total of 75 deputies stationed in Vista, Rancho San Diego, Lakeside, North Coastal and rural San Diego County and the Hall of Justice will test cameras by three vendors (30 days per vendor): Taser International, WatchGuard Video and Vievu.

    This article relates to: Must Reads, Police, Police Body Cameras, Public Safety, San Diego County Government

    Written by Kelly Davis

    Kelly Davis is a freelance journalist focusing on criminal justice and social issues. Follow her on Twitter @kellylynndavis or send an email to kellydaviswrites@gmail.com

    20 comments
    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    The Group mentions "reviewing" the video.  How about "editing" the video?

    Signed,

    Oops!  I accidently hit "Delete"

    obboy13
    obboy13 subscriber

    Now the professional second-guessers want an advantage in trapping the officers on the street?  What exactly is CLERB's mission?  Are they trying to get the facts out, or are they trying to fill a quota of officers caught disagreeing with what's on the camera images?  Seems to me if they are really interested in truth and transparency, then all parties, including officers should be able to view the images.  Said another way, will CLERB be making decisions and recommendations prior to reviewing the images?  Probably not huh.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @obboy13 It seems that you are not paying attention. CLERB does not want officers to review video footage before, repeat, before incident reports are written. You do a dedicated group a disservice by mockingly referring to them as professional second-guessers. Do better.

    "

    CLERB - and the world - is aware of the propensity of some officers to falsify reports and for "testilying."  Doubtless, you have heard or read of such incidents.

    obboy13
    obboy13 subscriber

    @rhylton @obboy13 rhylton, reread my post and you should be able to see I understood that CLERB is asking that officers not be allowed to write reports after seeing the recordings, and I fail to see how that helps anyone except the CLERB members, if their mission is to trap officers in misstatements.   If the truth is served by not viewing the recording prior to writing a report then why should that flawed logic not also apply to CLERB?  Transparency, which I believe in, is best served by all parties being able to see any video of an incident.  There is a big difference between an intentionally false report and one wherein the officer's recollection was not accurate, or worse yet, an incident where you with whatever training and experience you possess are certain you would have acted differently.  Falsification does happen, but I suspect it's much less infrequent here in San Diego than you believe.  How many has CLERB uncovered in its 30+ year history?


    Finally, you ask me to do better.  Fine...CLERB is a "dedicated group" of second-guessers.  What else would a group of folks reviewing situations after the fact be?  Well perhaps because the District Attorney's Office is by statute authorized to investigate and prosecute peace officer misconduct, that might make the CLERBa "dedicated group" of third-guessers.  Better?     

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @obboy13 @rhylton Three points in my reply.


    First, you have failed to explain or show how anyone, much less a board, benefits from entrapping an officer, who performs his duty faithfully, but errs. .

    Second, recent revelations, here and elsewhere, reasonably lead to a conclusion or impression that for thirty years CLERB and similar police review boards, have been the rubber-stamping tool of law enforcement. 

    Third; your closing comments are devoid of content worthy of comment; they are snide and bilious; worthy of a pillock., because by them you imply that there should be no review beyond the lickspittle.

    obboy13
    obboy13 subscriber

    @rhylton @obboy13 rhylton, re your three points:

    First, it comes as no surprise to me that I failed to show how anyone benefits from entrapping an officer, mainly because I wasn't trying to show that.  I guess that makes you correct in your assertion, however I can't understand why you thought I was trying to do that, but I'm not here to spoil your moment.


    Second, wasn't that you calling me out for saying CLERB was a group of second-guessers; and now you're saying they're nothing but "the rubber-stamping tool of law enforcement?" Shouldn't that at least be "a dedicated group"  that's the rubber-stamping tool of law enforcement?  Oh well.


    Third, If the closing comments were in your opinion "devoid of content worthy of comment," why did you then proceed to comment?  Additionally, in your rousing ad hominem retort you unfortunately seem to have misconstrued my intention.  Nowhere in any of my posts will you find a suggestion that CLERB be eliminated.  They might not represent in my opinion the best use of taxpayer funds, but I'm OK with their mission.  My only point throughout these exchanges has been to call for more transparency which, also in my opinion, will bring more of the truth to light.  Well, as the conversation progressed there was an ancillary point to my posts and that was to poke fun at those who are so strident in their beliefs they are unable to see both sides of a discussion, and need to resort to name calling.  Since I'm sure you're not like that, then it's not you I'm laughing at.  Right?


    Finally, having made my points, I'm done, so you get the last word.  Enjoy.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @obboy13 @rhylton Within the last 24 hours in California:


    Cover up: Two L.A. County sheriff’s deputies were found guilty Tuesday of falsifying records about the beating of a jail inmate. The same jury deadlocked over whether the deputies used excessive force. Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were accused of beating inmate Bret Phillips and then lying to cover it up. “The jury forewoman said in a brief interview afterward that 10 jurors were in favor of convicting the deputies on the excessive-force charge, but could not persuade the two remaining holdouts.” Los Angeles Times


    and


    Disciplinary action
    Los Angeles police did not violate the department’s policy when they shot a homeless man on the streets of skid row last year, according to the Police Commission. The March 1 killing of Charly Leundeu Keunang gained worldwide attention after video of the shooting went public. In a separate case, police commissioners did fault officers for a deadly shooting that took place in Burbank at the end of a pursuit. Los Angeles Times



    Bit-watcher
    Bit-watcher subscriber

    It's absolutely understandable that what an officer's perceptions were when responding to a situation and then pursuing an action is valuable information, and which certainly should be recorded.  However, the prevention of officers from reviewing the footage will just arm foes of the police to say, "See, this untrustworthy officer lied".  Bad for officer morale, especially in the charged atmosphere in the media-fanned public that pushes a view that the police are bad and deeply flawed, which itself pushes civil disturbance across the nation.  

    One can get the impression that some part of the public and media want the police departments to be more like kind nannies and facilitate individual dysfunction rather than to keep public safety and order, except (of course) when something bad happens and help is needed, or when those same interests want their own agendas enforced.  Cover-ups, and the atmosphere that encourages cover-ups is bad at all levels, whether it's a political party foisting a deeply flawed candidate on the public for office, misconduct in public office (unless the individual is of the proper political persuasion -- NOT!), misconduct in public safety or public employment, or in media that takes sides and covers up misbehaviors of those in those offices. 

    Good, honorable behavior by members of society at all levels should be encouraged, from youth on up.  

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Bit-watcher You are wrong sir. The people who would seek to look over the shoulders of the police are not foes of the police. 


    I have little doubt that you shall have seen several incidents, from the not too distant past or recently unearthed, where the incident reports bear no resemblance to video footage. Do you support that condition? I think not.

    Bit-watcher
    Bit-watcher subscriber

    @rhylton I think you should re-read my post.  I said nothing about CLERB, or whatever group you're talking about.  I think you have to agree that, at the very least, the perceptions I describe are valid.  Going to the references in the article, it's clear that there are guidelines across the country on body-camera video, but nothing as extreme as Ms. Weber's.  Nowhere do I see any explanation or justification from Ms. Weber for the limits she's pushing for in her bill.  Just because she says so?  I think not.  Give us a reason, Ms. Weber.  

    For you, what's the point for barring officers from seeing the video?  

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Bit-watcher @rhylton Last thing first. 


    Your post is premised on the fallacy that those who would hold police accountable are police foes whipped into a frenzy, by the media. 


    The point for beginning and the answer to your question is rooted in the public's right to know; the right to see the video that you would have the officer see. The public's right to see that which you would have the officer see has been denied; with terrible documented consequences. 


    On re-collection; in the case of Fridoon Nehad, Browder's initial report indicated that no weapon was observed. After re- viewing the video  the story/report changed 5 days later. In the case of Sandra Bland, the written report, filed by the officer, is at odds with the video footage, and forms the basis for ongoing termination proceedings against him. Finally, the shootist from Carolina wrote a report and statement indicating that he was forced to shoot because his Taser was taken and he feared for his life etc..All this before the existence of the Dominican's video was known. I could go on to Chicago, but I won't.


    The three examples are of false statements. I reject the stale suggestion of forgetfulness that is the result of the stress brought on by the encounter. Moreover, policemen have been trained on how to "testilie", and elected prosecutors are only too willing to provide refresher courses. All of the foregoing argues against officers being allowed to conform their stories to the facts on the video, but what is most compelling is the fact that LE, and its handmaiden, the prosecutors, have used due process and privacy bull-talk to frustrate the public's right to know and have allowed unfit cops "to get away with murder." I suppose you are aware that SDPD's  Zimmerman is against releasing video under any circumstances; a position opposite to that of her predecessor. The Federal Court fixed that in Fridoon's case.

    Bit-watcher
    Bit-watcher subscriber

    @rhylton ~~ recapping

    it seems from your interchange with @obboy13 that you like to "get into it", but also have difficulty understanding comment content.  With that, I don't understand why you misunderstand my comment.  

    In your three points, you're bringing up things I never touched on in my comment or my response.  Why you would understand that I was making those points is a puzzle to me.  If you had wanted to make those points in your own comment, then by all means, go ahead and do that.  It seems to me that placing them in a reply might make other readers misunderstand you. I am in that category.  It's obvious that you want to speak, but I'm moving towards a great deal of sympathy with @obboy13, though I am nowhere near as articulate as he is.

    The public's "right to know" -- I never brought that up, and how is that connected to Ms. Weber bill?  As far as video of a policing event, it is evidence, and as such is appropriately confined to law enforcement and the courts.  Politicizing an issue and trying things in the court of public opinion before they make it to court reminds me of a lynching.    

    "Testilie", a clever phrase, happens on both sides.  Defense attorneys also are questionable involvement in that.  I called for good behavior by all, but you never spoke to that.

    Maybe I should make myself clear: I don't like police misconduct.  Lots of law enforcement don't either. 

    Get a soapbox -- your own, but understand that you're not on mine, and you don't understand that.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Bit-watcher @rhylton @obboy13 


    Your comments, of necessity, alludes to issues that  you did not need to mention, with specificity. They are part of an understandable system or practice that you seek to perpetuate. It is  the tried and failed and, as such, it demanded my attention. I regret that I must reject your suggestion that I should be constrained by your mere words and only by them.


    In making yourself clear, you pinpointed the heart of my concern when you implied that some members of LE accepts misconduct; as here " I don't like police misconduct.  Lots of law enforcement don't either." The unmentioned minority should have your attention, as much as it has mine.


    Re: "Get a soapbox -- your own, but understand that you're not on mine, and you don't understand that."


    I most certainly do not understand that because the soapbox belongs to neither of us.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Bit-watcher @rhylton @obboy13

    If you can understand this item, received a few days ago, it demonstrates the deceptive abilities of the DA's office


    From: Reizen, Julianne [mailto:Julianne.Reizen@sdcda.org
    Sent: Monday, February 1, 2016 4:55 PM
    To: 'rhylton'
    Cc: Sierra, Tanya
    Subject: PRA 16-05 OIS 155

    Mr. Hylton,

    I am a designated custodian of records for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, responsible for compliance with the California Public Records Act (CPRA).  On January 18, 2016, Ms. Tanya Sierra of this Office received your emailed CPRA request.  Your request referenced a “list of 155 shootings, by law enforcement people, that took place in San Diego County” published by KPBS.  In your email, you provided a link to a KPBS article, which included a list of 155 named individuals who were the subjects of law enforcement shootings.  You requested that you be provided “with a listing of the unfortunate individuals who underwent these fateful encounters, which list should include the race or ethnicity of each such person.”    

    On January 21, 2016, Ms. Sierra attempted to assist you by emailing you the link to this Office’s 20-year officer-involved shooting report.  Later that date, you responded to Ms. Sierra via email, stating that the provided information did not suit your purposes.  Your emailed request was subsequently forwarded to me on that same date to be handled pursuant to the CPRA. 

    This Office has conducted a reasonable search for records, and has been unable to identify a record responsive to your request.  This Office does not possess a list containing the names of these 155 individuals and the race or ethnicity of each of these individuals.  And an agency is not required to create a new set of public records in order to provide a response to a CPRA request.  (Fredericks v. Superior Court (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 209, 227.)

    Furthermore, to the extent this Office has specific identifying data pertaining to the race or ethnicity of defendants, witnesses, victims, or individuals that are part of an investigation, that information is part of our investigative file and will not be produced.  This identifying data is ordinarily contained within the investigative files compiled by this Office for law enforcement purposes.  Investigative files, and the information contained therein, are exempt from disclosure under Government Code section 6254, subdivision (f).  Investigatory files need not be maintained in specific case files, the question is whether a particular record “relate[s] to the investigation” in question.  (Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 278, 291.)  Neither the termination of an investigation, nor the conclusion of the case, removes our exemption under subdivision (f) of Government Code section 6254.  (Williams v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal.4th 337, 354.)  Additionally, disclosure of personal identifying information, such as an individual’s race or ethnicity, would unreasonably infringe on that individual’s constitutional right to privacy established in article I, section 1 of the California Constitution.  (Gov. Code, § 6254, subd. (k).)  And finally, information acquired in confidence by a public employee is exempt from disclosure under the “official information” privilege.  (Ibid., Evid. Code, § 1040.)     

    Sincerely,

    Julie Reizen

    Deputy District Attorney

    Bit-watcher
    Bit-watcher subscriber

    @rhylton @Bit-watcher @obboy13

    "Your comments, of necessity, alludes to issues that  you did not need to mention, with specificity. They are part of an understandable system or practice that you seek to perpetuate. It is  the tried and failed and, as such, it demanded my attention. I regret that I must reject your suggestion that I should be constrained by your mere words and only by them."

    You've left me, there, fellow.  "[C]onstrained by [my] mere words"?  What are you talking about?  

    'you implied that some members of LE accepts misconduct; as here " I don't like police misconduct.  Lots of law enforcement don't either." The unmentioned minority should have your attention, as much as it has mine.'

    I implied nothing -- you're inferring something on your own.  

    You response lacks clarity, and I'm not getting into the subject of soapboxes.

    Bit-watcher
    Bit-watcher subscriber

    @rhylton @Bit-watcher @obboy13

    @rhylton, This is pretty clear.  They're giving you legal reasons why they can't/won't comply with your request.  As far as their deceptive abilities, that's arguable, but what do you expect? They're attorneys, and that verbiage is what they do.  I might suggest that what they're being very clear about is their answer: "No". 

    Whether they can get away with it depends on the depth of your pocketbook, and how well you play this game of poker.

    My condolences on this rebuff to your request.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Bit-watcher @rhylton @obboy13 condolences accepted, although unnecessary. The fine public servants having provided summary reports on the  data to Openjustice (CADOJ) and USDOJ,  and detail items to the press, now claim not to have data upon which the summarization was made or, in the alternative, claim that race/ethnicity is part of an ongoing investigation etc.


    Your tax dollars at work.



    FYI, I have tested somewhat similar data from the SDPD and proved it false.

    rhylton
    rhylton subscriber

    @Bit-watcher @rhylton @obboy13 I do understand your difficulty with my reply. It is written in English. Let me try again, this time in American.


    You want to maintain the status quo; the failed practices. But you do not say so directly,  you use red-herrings,  inflammatory terms and fanciful concoctions, such as "foes of the police." In other places, you beat around the bush.  All of the above leaves it to readers to figure out what you mean.  To do this they must use current events, history and context as a foundation. For example; you beat around the bush in dealing with misconduct and its acceptance by some in LE,  you write " Lots of law enforcement don't either."  The only possible inference is that some LE Officers do accept misconduct (the minority) since "lots" is less than "all"


    The purpose of this entire business; the one being undertaken nationwide, to your apparent displeasure, is to weed out the minority of miscreants in LE, i.e. those who misbehave and those who accept misbehaviour.. The method for doing this can be explained in simple arithmetic. Take the "All",then subtract the Lots.  Oops! I complicated things again.


    To close; the inferences were mine; the soapbox is now yours; and the law and best-police-practices are passing you by..