Police Review Commission talks body-worn cameras, Lexipol policies

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Discussion on body-worn cameras took center stage once again at the Police Review Commission, or PRC, meeting, Wednesday evening.

Questions arose about the ethics of allowing officers to film on-site without people’s knowledge. Additionally, supervisors may currently view footage taken with body cameras prior to writing police reports — criticized by multiple community members at the meeting. The newly released introduction of a Berkeley Police Department manual, titled “Body Worn Cameras,” prompted the debate.

The policy, released Sept. 28, details the situations in which officers are allowed to record using their body-worn cameras. It also specifies when they may stop or forego recording and whether they are required to reveal that they are recording to individuals at the scene.

“We are going to start training (officers to use) body-worn cameras the week of Oct. 22,” said Lt. Angela Hawk of BPD at the meeting. “There are scheduled trainings throughout the department to get the cameras up and running. … We’ve had a couple of folks doing a trial run.”

The policy lets officers film both victims and witnesses of potential crimes with no obligation to inform them that they are being recorded. Filming and recording are also permitted in pedestrian stops, field interviews, traffic stops and search activities, among other specified situations.

PRC Commissioner Andrea Prichett voiced her concerns that the practice of making “secret” recordings could harm the police department’s relationship with the community at large.

“For decades, the police department has been making secret recordings of traffic stops,” Prichett said at the meeting. “Do you understand how that erodes relationships or how that erodes the possibility of trust? … Why not tell somebody that they’re recording?”

Other issues arose about when the footage from these body-worn cameras could be viewed, as well as how police-issued iPhones used by officers would fit into the policy.

Jim Chanin, who has done work with the Oakland Police Department and worked in police review throughout his career, spoke about his own concerns surrounding the policy. He criticized the absence of information on the relationship with newly issued department iPhones, which are planned to work with the body-worn cameras.

Another of Chanin’s concern was allowing police officers to view footage before writing reports, which Chanin said is a “terrible practice” that he does not think Oakland allows.

A motion passed to have PRC Officer Katherine Lee compare a policy that the PRC developed in 2016 with the currently proposed policy and to find areas of disagreement.

The commission also moved to approve a group of policies from Lexipol, a state-law specific policy manual. All policies moved through with the exception of two that involve handcuffing procedures and the use of canines.

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.