CARTOON: New Uses for Body Cameras


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Body Camera cartoon

LAPD awarded $1M by U.S. Department of Justice to buy body cameras

A reported by the L.A. Daily News:

The Los Angeles Police Department was awarded $1 million by the U.S. Department of Justice Monday for the purchase of body cameras, despite a complaint by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that the department’s policies on the use and release of the footage hinders transparency.

The LAPD was one of 73 agencies across the country to be awarded a total of $19.3 million in funding for the purchase of cameras. Pasadena was awarded $250,000.

Los Angeles officials had asked the federal government for funding to purchase 700 cameras. The city ultimately wants to purchase 7,000 cameras to outfit all of its field officers. The department already has about 860 cameras purchased through private donations. Distribution of those cameras began this month at three LAPD stations. …

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Bill requiring search warrants for electronic communications sent to Jerry Brown

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Will Gov. Jerry Brown finally sign legislation shielding personal digital information from police searches?

The California Senate on Wednesday sent the governor Senate Bill 178, which would require officers to obtain a warrant before accessing electronic devices and the e-mails, text messages and geolocation data found on them, except in instances where a loss of life or evidence is imminent.

Despite a late push by law enforcement groups that nearly held up the measure in the Assembly over concerns about its effect on child pornography investigations, SB 178 passed the Senate with little objection on a 32-4 bipartisan vote.

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Transparency of Oakland PD Body Cam Footage Sparks Controversy

Police carSeveral local police forces in California got on the police body-cameras bandwagon well before police killings around the nation in the summer of 2014 triggered a broad push for their adoption. The Rialto Police Department was the focus of a 2013 New York Times story that emphasized how much body cameras improved interactions between officers and the public.

But in Oakland, it appears authorities will only release the body-camera videos when they exonerate police, and that the video will be kept from the public and the media in other circumstances on the grounds that it is part of an ongoing investigation. The East Bay Express recently reported on how the Oakland police are dealing with four police killings. In two cases, Police Chief Sean Whent won’t release any body-cam footage. In the other two cases, police wouldn’t release the footage to the public. Instead, on Aug. 19, the Oakland Police Department held a screening for 11 members of the media.

This account is from the East Bay Express:

[The] videos included police body camera footage taken by officers who were chasing Richard Linyard and Nathaniel Wilks (in two separate incidents). On July 19, Linyard was allegedly fleeing the police on foot when he was later found wedged between two buildings. A coroner’s report said Linyard died from injuries he suffered when he was apparently stuck between the buildings.

On August 12, Wilks allegedly fled the police in a vehicle and then on foot. Several officers confronted and shot Wilks near the intersection of 27th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

Watson said OPD showed videos to select members of the media in order to dispel inaccurate reports that officers beat Linyard, and claims that Wilks was shot in the back. Both incidents sparked protests. “We held the viewing in the interest of the public, to be able to share information through fair and balanced reporting,” said Watson.

Watson, however, said that the video footage will not be released to the broader public, and that OPD believes the California Public Records Act allows the department to withhold the footage because it is evidence in several ongoing investigations.

‘Completely wrong’ to withhold some video

As the Bay Area News Group reported, giving the police the right to pick and choose which videos to release outraged local civil-rights lawyer Jim Chanin. “I think it’s completely wrong to have selective showings of one shooting and not another shooting, depending on how the department feels . … There’s an inference now that if (police) don’t show you a video, there could be something wrong or improper about (another) shooting,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, a bill that would establish statewide procedures on access to and use of policy body-camera footage appears to have failed, U-T San Diego columnist Steve Greenhut wrote on Friday.

In April, a comprehensive bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, passed its initial committee vote. Per its official description, “Assembly Bill 66 would provide guidelines about when the cameras are to be operated, require notification of those being recorded, and prohibit law-enforcement officers involved in serious use-of-force incidents that result in serious bodily injury or death from viewing the video until they have filed an initial report.” Whent, the Oakland police chief, testified infavor of the bill.

But Weber’s bill was effectively killed within weeks. As Dan Walters wrote in the Sacramento Bee:

Weber’s body camera bill was beaten up in the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. Police unions, whose endorsements politicians crave, strongly opposed it as unfair, and the committee insisted that only local authorities decide when cops can see body videos.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Stop sign cameras in mountain parks may take a hike

Stop sign photoThe Santa Monica Mountains are home to nearly 400 species of birds, more than 50 threatened or endangered plants and animals, and seven threatened or endangered photo-enforced stop signs.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, wants to save the ticket-mailing stop signs from extinction, but Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, has introduced a bill to kill them off. In January, Senate Bill 218 will return to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for a second time, after Pavley, chair of the committee, blocked it in May.

“I find it promising that some of my colleagues believe, as I do, that no matter how noble the goal, the MRCA needs to better justify its stop sign camera enforcement program,” Huff said.

MRCA is the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. It was formed in 1985 when the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District joined with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to acquire, develop and conserve park and open-space lands. Today MRCA manages 72,000 acres of public lands from Ventura County to the San Gabriel Mountains.

MRCA’s noble goal is the safety of park visitors, whether they are hiking, dog-walking, bicycling, pushing a baby stroller or driving.

In pursuit of this goal, MRCA operates seven photo-enforced stop signs in its parks, which together generate $1.5 million annually in gross revenue. The automated system sends out about 25,000 tickets a year at $100 a pop, jumping to $500 for the third violation within 12 months.

The tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle as identified from a photo of the rear license plate. Appeals of violations are handled internally at MRCA and then can be taken to the Superior Court — about 50 percent of the tickets are tossed out. They are administrative citations, which don’t count against an individual’s driving record, but unpaid tickets are turned over to a collection agency.

It is disputed whether MRCA’s system, unique in California, is legal under the state’s vehicle code, and whether the placement of the signs is really motivated by safety concerns. Supervising ranger Jewel Johnson told the Senate committee the signs are thoughtfully placed to protect pedestrians and to slow down speeding commuters who use park roads as a shortcut.

But a recent visit to two of the parks calls that claim into question.

Near the entrance to Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park, located at the south end of Reseda Boulevard, a photo-enforced stop sign is placed at a mid-point in the road where there is no intersection. A crosswalk in front of the stop line leads to a hiking trail on one side, but it seems unnecessary to force every car to come to a complete stop on the road leading out of the park if no one is waiting to cross.

The Top of Topanga Overlook is a narrow walkway where visitors can see a wide view of the San Fernando Valley. The tiny park has 16 parking spaces, three picnic tables, a few benches, some deceased shrubs and a photo-enforced stop sign. It nails drivers as they exit the park in a right-turn-only lane that puts them on northbound Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The placement of the sign doesn’t protect pedestrians or slow traffic in the park. It’s just a stop sign at the end of a right-turn lane, and the fines for rolling through it go to MRCA.

The fines also go to Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., a Phoenix company that makes red light camera systems and speed enforcement cameras as well as the stop sign setups.

In June, former Redflex CEO Karen Finley pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges for giving money to officials in Columbus and Cincinnati in order to land contracts. And last year, Chicago ended its relationship with Redflex after a federal grand jury issued a 23-count indictment accusing the company of paying off city officials to get $124 million in public contracts.

Here in California, Redflex has spent $1.2 million lobbying the state Legislature since 2009.

Redflex is opposed to Sen. Huff’s bill, which would make photo-enforced stop signs illegal in the Santa Monica Mountains and everywhere else in the state.

“We all share a common love for our public parks and want people to have a safe and enjoyable experience while visiting them,” Huff said. “We shouldn’t be punishing people who are enjoying a day in the park with an arbitrary ticket.”

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Blame game as car break-ins escalate in S.F.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

An alarming 47 percent spike in San Francisco car break-ins in the first half of this year has prompted a blame game between police, prosecutors and politicians while repeat victims like Kelley Maulbetsch are left feeling exasperated and helpless.

When Maulbetsch walked to her car one morning last week in San Francisco’s Mission District, her usual upbeat demeanor quickly gave way to sour frustration. Someone had smashed a hole in the rear passenger-side window of her Volkswagen Jetta station wagon and made off with the paltry haul — two camping chairs and a music stand.

Pea-size pieces of glass were strewn about her car’s interior while chunks of the window still broke away from the hastily punched hole as she pulled up later that day to In and Out Auto Glass in the city’s Bayview district. …

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Voting rights to be restored for tens of thousands of felons in CA

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

Los Angeles County probation Chief Jerry Powers said he hasn’t heard the question over allowing low-level felons to vote posed better than by his 12-year-old son: “Dad, what part of voting makes us less safe?”

“Only a 12-year-old can put it that way. There’s not a single part of allowing these individuals to vote that is going to make our society less safe,” Powers said Tuesday on the steps of an Oakland courthouse, where California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced the right to vote will soon be restored to tens of thousands of low-level felons in California serving out their sentences under the community supervision provisions of the state’s recent criminal justice reforms.

“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and our prisons and serious about reducing recidivism, we need to engage, not shun, former offenders,” Padilla said. “And voting is a key part of that engagement. It is part of a process of becoming vested, having a stake in the community.”

SF’s Police Chief Orders Officers to Play Nice for Appearance’s Sake

Police carEver since the eruption of violence in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, the nation’s police have come under severe scrutiny for any evidence of racial bias. The deaths of Eric Garner in New York, Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore only intensified the focus on police tactics as buildings burned, protestors stopped freeway and bridge traffic, and cops clashed with civilians. Amid cries that “black lives matter,” widespread riots and further civil unresthave put police on their heels in cities that need their protection the most.

San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr responded to the threat of public turbulence and heightened awareness in a departmental bulletin published on April 27. Titled “Avoiding the ‘Lawful but Awful’ Use of Force,” the chief’s memorandum, number 15-106, began with something very close to an admission that his main concern involved publicity—not the safety of the police and public, but the media image of his subordinates and himself. “A ‘Lawful but Awful’ use of force is a use of force that is within the law and within Department policy,” Suhr wrote, “but an action that produces an undesirable outcome which is tragic not only for the individual(s) involved, but for all those touched by or exposed to the event.”

Reading like a disciplinary lecture from a high school principal, Suhr’s guidance noted that a previous bulletin “requires officers to create time, distance, and establish a rapport with people in crisis who are only a danger to themselves.” Creating “time, distance, and . . . rapport” seems to be bureaucratic jargon mandating that police give people threatening them and others a period for reflection, an opportunity to detach themselves from a confrontation, and an offer of sympathy and comfort. Suhr’s memorandum repeats the formula, embellishing on it and emphasizing that “the strongest officers are those who consider all options—including creating time, distance, and establishing a rapport.” Bulletin 15-106 concludes, in an idiom weak in literacy, “An officer may not discharge a firearm at a person who presents a danger only to him or herself, and there is no reasonable cause to believe that the person poses an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or any other person” (bolded phrase and italics in the original bulletin).

SFPD’s rank and file have interpreted the bulletin as an order to give offenders a “head start” (time) in escaping the scene (distance) of their disputes with law enforcement and ordinary citizens, encouraged by the friendly demeanor (rapport) of police they encounter. Officers of the law, not for the first time, are expected to conduct themselves in the manner of social workers. While such an approach to disorderly and illegal behavior is hardly new, it appears especially inappropriate when outbursts of civil upheaval are spreading.

The mission of police to maintain public order is obstructed in San Francisco, where lawlessness and contempt for the rights of others increase daily. Notwithstanding the technological revolution continuing in nearby Silicon Valley, San Franciscans must contend each day with more homeless occupying the pavements and parks, more aggression against ordinary people attempting to go about their business, and more outright, serious lawbreaking. Faced with growing turmoil, Chief Suhr has commanded his troops to stand down, the better to avoid media hostility.

Police personnel in the city are discontented with the bulletin and the attitude it represents, which they view as requirement for a “hands off” approach to miscreants. For the benefit of police and citizens alike, Suhr should withdraw his memo. But he is unlikely to do so. For those responsible for the tranquility of San Francisco, an image of failure appears preferable to media complications produced by “lawful but awful” use of force. In such an environment, fewer people will feel the call to put on the badge and protect and serve the public.

Can Unionized Police Be Held Accountable for Misconduct?

“We thought [the employees we fired] were inappropriate to be employees of the city.”

– Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks (ret.), in reference to the termination of corrupt police officers, Rampart scandal (late 1990’s)

police-badgeAbout a year ago UnionWatch.org published an editorial asking this question, “How much does professionalism cost,” using as an example the tragic death of Kelly Thomas. In that case, six police officers repeatedly struck with batons and tased an unarmed man, who died a few days later of his injuries. Since that tragedy back in 2011, numerous cases of police misconduct have surfaced, many of them with equally tragic consequences. The latest one, while inexcusable, is more farce than tragedy, involving a team of Santa Ana police officers who recently raided a marijuana dispensary in that city.

The misconduct didn’t involve murderous violence, but it did involve blatantly unprofessional behavior. Once the officers secured the dispensary and ejected the staff and customers, they proceeded to disable the security cameras, and, at least according to the video recording from the camera they neglected to destroy, some went on to gobble up marijuana “edibles.” Watch this video and make up your own mind whether or not these individuals are engaging in conduct appropriate for employees of the Santa Ana police department.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, on his radio talk show, has frequently discussed the issue of police misconduct. He makes an observation that bears repeating – in a population of over 1 million police officers in the United States, it is inevitable that you will have bad apples. It is statistically impossible to have a group of humans that large, where every single individual will be beyond reproach. There will always be a percentage of crooks and thugs who slip through. It can’t be helped.

Critics of police fall roughly into two camps – those who are concerned about police respecting civil rights, and those who are concerned about excessive police pay and benefits. While there’s overlap, these are very distinct concerns. But those who are concerned police overstate the risks of their job in order to justify increasing their pay are often the same ones who overlook the fact that police misconduct can also be overstated. Critics can’t have it both ways. Police fatalities are rare. Police misconduct is also rare.

What can be helped, however, is how police who do cross the line are held accountable.

According to a source at an Orange County blog that covered the pot bust, the supervising officer on the scene was Alex Sanchez, a police sergeant with the city of Santa Ana who in 2013 made $107,952 in regular pay, $27,205 in “other pay,” $16,184 in overtime pay, and earned employer paid benefits of another $68,820. In other words, this officer earned pay and direct benefits during 2013 of $221,162. This rate of pay is not unusual. Take a look at the pay for Santa Ana city employees – note how nearly all of the high paying positions are for police officers.

Citizens have a right to expect better behavior from a police officer who makes this much money. And a police officer who makes this much money should be prepared to be held accountable. In the corporate world, on-the-job drug use, vandalism, or insults directed at a member of a protected status group are all grounds for instant termination. And in the corporate world, despite repeated claims to the contrary by government union propagandists, total compensation packages in excess of $200,000 per year are very unusual. Notwithstanding that incessantly cited handful of rapacious and untouchable Wall Street bankers, corporate managers and executives who make $200,000 or more per year have little or no job security, and are held accountable, and terminated, for transgressions of far less import.

There’s more. When critics of police conduct say police should not consider themselves above the law, they’re right, but they don’t go far enough. Police should not merely obey the law, they should be role models. By their words and deeds they should inspire the rest of us. The destruction of cameras, the needless vandalism, the profanity, and the insults undermine respect for law enforcement, which is the human face of the laws we must obey.

Police unions not only highlight the risk officers face as the reason they deserve excellent pay and benefits, they highlight the professional requirements of the job. Police perform an incredibly difficult job that goes well beyond the physical risk they live with. Every day, they have to deal with uncertain, volatile situations, with agitated individuals and groups, with hostility and disrespect, and with violent criminals. Police work in 2014 America requires more professionalism than ever. That’s why they’re paid like professionals. But with professionalism comes accountability.

Police officers depend on the trust and solidarity of their colleagues. That is a necessary and proper element of an effective police force. But police unions overlay onto that solidarity an us-vs-them mentality, as well as a layer of protection against individual accountability, that at the least may be described as problematic. Police unions, like teachers unions, may consciously proclaim their commitment to the broad public interest, but their organizational agenda invariably pulls them away from the people they serve.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

California could soon legalize motorcycle lane-splitting

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Motorcycle lane-splitting — the rush-hour time saver for bikers that enrages many drivers — may be poised for formal legalization.

California would be the first state to sanction the traffic-evading tactic, already widespread on traffic-choked freeways of Los Angeles.

The state Assembly is expected to approve the legislation as soon as Thursday, and supporters believe it will clear the Senate as well.

The measure would allow motorcycles to travel between cars at speeds up to 15 mph faster than the flow of traffic, up to a speed of 50 mph. …

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