June 18 2014 12:00 AM

Civil-rights group expresses concern over new police body-camera policy

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman
Dave Rolland

To the chagrin of the ACLU of Southern California, a new San Diego Police Department policy on body cameras released Wednesday would give officers discretion over when to record an encounter.

The ACLU took issue with several provisions in the new policy, but perhaps the most concerning to the civil-rights group was a stipulation that reads: "Generally, officers should not record informal or casual encounters with members of the public." ---

The provision creates potential for "abuse," according to an ACLU letter addressed to San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. "The default should be to record an encounter with the public where there is a possibility that it could turn into a law enforcement contact. Otherwise, this ‘casual encounter' could become an exception that swallows the rule."

On Wednesday, Zimmerman rolled out the new guidelines for regulating the use of officer-worn body cameras at the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.

Committee Chair Marti Emerald expressed some concern about the issue of when an officer is required to record an encounter and requested that the policy be submitted to the entire City Council. Chief Zimmerman said that the department would do so.

The police department started using the cameras in March for testing and training. The videos have not been made public.

On June 10, the City Council unanimously approved a contract for roughly $3.9 million with TASER International to provide hundreds of cameras to the police department. A buffering mode allows recordings to include footage 30 seconds prior activation. Battery life is intended to last for an officer's entire shift.


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