Crime & Justice

Pasadena police reverse policy, allow release of body worn camera video

FILE: LAPD officer Guillermo Espinoza demonstrates how to use a lapel camera on and off.
FILE: LAPD officer Guillermo Espinoza demonstrates how to use a lapel camera on and off.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Under pressure from the public, the Pasadena Police Department Wednesday announced it is reversing a two-month old policy that prohibited the release of video from cameras worn by officers.

Under the old policy, all video was considered “investigative materials” – even before it was shot. The California Public Records Act exempts such materials from disclosure.

“We had more of a hardline stance before,” said Lt. Vaskin Gourdikian, a spokesman for the police department.

Residents protested the policy at city council meetings, and the Pasadena chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the city. Police Chief Phillip Sanchez and City Manager Steve Mermell took another look at their policy.

The “investigative materials” language is now deleted from the new policy and replaced with language favoring disclosure (see below). There are exceptions, including if releasing the video jeopardizes a victim’s or witness’ safety.

Video involving incidents that involve a lawsuit against the department also will not be released. That likely means video of controversial shootings will remain secret.

NAACP attorney Dale Gronemeir hopes public pressure will force the release of those videos too.

“The practical reality is that the public will not accept 'we don’t see the video,'” he said.

Gronemeir praised the new policy, especially a new section that specifically prohibits Pasadena’s 300 officers and civilian community safety cops from turning on their cameras at political events when there’s been no crime committed.

About 50 California police agencies have issued body worn cameras to their officers. There is no official count on how many release videos to the public, but the biggest department – the LAPD – bans it.

An excerpt from the new Pasadena police policy on the release of video:

“The Pasadena Police Department will endeavor to release BWC (body worn camera) recordings to the greatest extent possible unless disclosure would:

a. endanger the safety of a witness or another person involved in the investigation,

b. jeopardize the successful completion of an investigation or

c. violate local, state, and/or federal laws, including but not limited to, the right of privacy,

d. or involves other mitigating circumstances such as potential civil litigation.”

Here's an excerpt from new Pasadena policy policy on shooting video at political events. The new section 460.6.1 entitled “First Amendment Activity” provides the following:

"Members shall not use the BWC devices to record individuals who are engaged in peaceful protest or First Amendment protected speech or

activities; unless the officer believes a violation of criminal law is occurring, may occur, of if the officer has direct interaction with the participant or third party to the event."