- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California lawmakers on Thursday advanced a bill intended to protect police officers from harm by giving them time to decide whether to keep video footage secret.

But as the measure heads to the Senate it faces opposition from law enforcement, justice and media representatives worried it could thwart access to public records and strip police leaders of discretion over agency footage.

Members of the Assembly voted 59-1 in favor of the proposal from Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, to guarantee officers pictured in a dashboard, body or other police-owned video at least three days’ notice to give them a chance to fight its release.

“Oftentimes, officers involved in critical incidents face real and tangible threats from criminals or angry members of the public,” the Peace Officers Research Association of California, sponsor of the bill, wrote to lawmakers in April.

Santiago said if a video puts an officer in legitimate danger, “there’s nothing they can do about it once it’s out.”

California already allows police to seek injunctions prohibiting the disclosure of videos that may cause people to harass, intimidate, threaten or harm them. This bill would give the officers involved advance notice of requests for footage.

Nikki Moore, a lobbyist for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said the proposal would obstruct requests for information and ultimately drive up the cost of acquiring controversial police videos.

CNPA and the California Public Defenders Association oppose the bill in part because they say officers would jump at the chance to protect themselves from public scrutiny.

“This will lead to a cascade of injunction actions by police and their unions who want to prevent disclosure of police records and it’s a fight that journalists are not going to be able to afford,” Moore said.

Santiago argued that officers would only involve the courts when they’re genuinely fearful for their or their family’s safety. He called opponents’ concerns “a big assumption.”

“I think what’s more important is to notify an officer in case there is that action or that situation that they believe may lead to something to harm their lives,” Santiago said.

The California Police Chiefs Association, another opponent, said it would remove law enforcement leadership from the process of resolving whether police videos get released.

“We believe this decision is best left with departmental management,” the association’s president, David Bejarano, and a lobbyist, Jonathan Feldman, wrote to lawmakers in a May 19 letter.


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