By Lynn La
In response to calls for greater police accountability, California passed laws to make police misconduct records more accessible to the public and placed the state Attorney General’s office in charge of investigating police killings of unarmed civilians.
Following the 2018 Sacramento police shooting of Stephon Clark, who was unarmed, lawmakers now require law enforcement agencies to release body camera footage within 45 days of any incident when an officer fires a gun or uses deadly force.
But as CalMatters’ criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara writes, agencies heavily edit these videos in ways that can shape public opinion before all facts of the case are known.
Carried out by in-house production teams or private contractors, edits of full, raw video can include highlighting or circling objects in a person’s hand, slowing down footage at key moments, erasing or failing to transcribe audio, or failing to make clear which officers fired their gun, Nigel reports.
At times, the public and the media rely on these edited videos because they are the only documentation of a deadly police encounter available. As a result, these videos can hold a lot of sway.
- Michele Hanisee, president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys: “While transparency promotes public confidence in the conduct of law enforcement, the pre-trial release of evidence has the potential to influence the testimony of witnesses, create bias in potential jurors, or create an environment that could justify a change in venue.”
Ken Pritchett, who works at one such private contractor company that edits videos for police, has pushed back against departments when police press releases contradict what is on video. For example, when a release states that police “immediately rendered first aid to a person they shot,” when there was actually a delay in administering help.
But he said he hopes his videos ultimately help to dispel any false narratives that might arise from these fatal incidents.
- Pritchett: “Virtually every article we’ve seen about what we do, somebody accuses us of spinning for the police department, but I have yet to ever see an example put forward that shows that we’re spinning anything. And if they did, tell me, for God’s sakes. My entire goal is to make these straight, spin-free.”
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Here’s a question – why do the videos of body camera images need editing at all? Why? Why is it necessary? Yes, they may not be pretty images but deaths like this are not pretty. This is reality. Jurist need to see the raw video just as it happened and as seen as closely as possible the same as seen by the officers.