Police body cams at center of debate - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Police body cams at center of debate

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - When a cop stops you, police body cameras could be rolling. SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman and the media explored this controversial topic during a discussion held by the Society of Professional Journalists Tuesday.

During the meeting, Chief Zimmerman was pressed for answers on the patrol officers' body cameras.

“I'm a huge a supporter of our officers wearing body-worn cameras," said Chief Shelley Zimmerman. “It holds our police officers accountable, but the public has to be accountable too."

During a forum held by the San Diego Society of Professional Journalist, Chief Zimmerman discussed the policies on the cameras but insisted the video will not be released to the public.

“The video is considered evidence and at this point in this policy I don't plan to release any of the video,” said Zimmerman.

The NAACP who also joined the forum is concerned officers will not be held accountable if a complaint is made and the complainant doesn't have access to the video unless a lawsuit is filed.

“The public has to be able to trust the police,” said NAACP San Diego branch President, Lei-Chala Wilson.

She joined the chief and the SDPD Police Officers Association President Brian Marvel, La Raza Lawyers Association Board Member, Victor Torres and ACLU Policy Director for San Diego and Imperial Counties, Margaret Dooley-Sammuli.

“If a video is going to be made public that should only happen when there is a real public interest,” said Dooley-Sammuli.

She wants to make sure the privacy of the officer and the person on camera is protected.

Audience members grew concerned about the policies:

“The fact that you don't get to see the video to me is egregious, it's insane,” said Tenace Jenkins.

Currently, there are 300 officers in the Central, Southeast and Mid City Divisions who are equipped with body cameras.

Officers are not required to notify someone if they are recording unless asked.

“If the intention is to improve behavior to further that purpose, people should be informed,” said Dooley-Sammuli.

Nationwide police departments with body cameras report complaints against officers have gone down. Chief Zimmerman says it's happening on her force.

“They [supervisor] had told the individual who wanted to complain that the officer was wearing a body-worn camera and the complainant said, 'You know what I want to withdraw my complaint.'"

The chief also says the department is a leader in assaults on officers and the cameras are helping to bring that number down, “Several incidents have been de-escalated by reminding the individual that they are talking to that they are wearing a body-worn camera.

Still the La Raza Lawyers Association is concerned about the public's trust with police, “Unless the public knows what's going to happen…it diminishes the value of it,” said Torres.

If an officer intentionally does not record an incident the chief says that officer could be terminated.

Body cam policies will be reviewed with the POA every six months.

By the end of the year 300 more officers in the Northern, Western and Southern Divisions will have the body cameras.

All patrol officers will have them by the end of 2015.
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