In an unexpected statement, the Pasadena City Manager’s office announced Thursday evening that beginning Monday the Pasadena Police Department will deploy body-worn cameras on its officers for regular use for the first time.
By Friday, the announcement said, all police officers in the department completed training on the use of the cameras as well as received a copy of the Department’s body-worn camera policy.
News of the cameras’ rollout without public input on the finalized Departmental policies governing their use on the streets and access to the resulting videos ignited heated comments from two City Councilmembers as well as a local police oversight activists.
Civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier, a member of the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CIOPP), reacted angrily to the announcement, saying, “It is outrageous that the City Manager and the Police Chief are making a power grab to implement body cameras without adequate public comment.”
John Kennedy, Chair of the Council Public Safety Committee, said, “The manner in which the City Manager and the Police Chief have chosen to go about handling the creation of a policy for body worn cameras may not be cowardice,” Kennedy said Friday morning, “but it sure is not in the best interest of open and transparent government, and not in the best interest of this community and not consistent with good public policy.”
Kennedy said he learned of the body camera deployment and that his Committee would not have a hand in the policy’s finalization before the cameras were deployed in a call Thursday night from City Manager Mermell.
“The City Manager and Police Chief have misrepresented to the Council and the Public Safety Committee that they would provide an opportunity for the community to view the policy and take testimony from the community and experts about the policy prior to releasing the policy,” Kennedy said. “That was the only reason why the policy was not released earlier.”
Kennedy also took issue with the policy dictate that allows police officers to view body camera footage of incidents before being interviewed by investigators.
In both the announcement and in Friday interviews, City Hall officials stressed there was neither a legal requirement nor a commitment by the City Manager or Police Chief to present the final body camera policy to the public, Public Safety Committee or the Council for approval before the policy’s implementation.
“I think there’s some misunderstanding,” City Manager Steve Mermell said. “ First of all, we’ve been in front of the Public Safety Committee [on] several occasions already to receive public input on what they think should be included in the policy.”
“The policy itself is administrative. Under the municipal code, the Police Chief promulgates the policy, subject to the review of the City Manager,” Mermell continued. “There was a memo prepared by the City Attorney’s office that was previously shared with the public, that describes the process, and in the next regularly scheduled Public Safety Committee meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 21, the Police Department will do an information presentation on the implementation of the cameras as well as the policy.”
Mermell confirmed that police officers will be allowed to view video footage of incidents before making their statements.
“In the administrative review, yes, the policy would allow an officer to review the tape,” Mermell said. “That is the case with most of the other policies that I’ve seen, from other agencies, particularly in California.”
“Just to be clear,” said Pasadena Police Public Information Officer Lt. Vasken Gourdikian, “policy creation and policy implementation is operational and rests with the Chief of Police and the bargaining units, it’s not something that Public Safety Committee decides for us.”
Councilmember Tyron Hampton, who is also a member of the Public Safety Committee, expressed frustration, saying, “I suggested that the policy be written wide open so that the public has an opportunity to weigh in on, because this is something very significant, this is a significant change for the city, this is a significant change for the country.”
“I think it’s important for our law enforcement officers, as well as the public to have more of a cohesive working relationship and for both sides to build significant amounts of trust from one another, “ Hampton said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to be able to write a policy together.”
Public Safety Chair Kennedy said he had made “a specific request to the City Manager and the Mayor to hold up in releasing the policy because the community and experts would like to weigh in had not been given an opportunity to see the full policy in draft and comment on it.”
“The rationale of moving in the manner in which the City Manager has moved, in my view, is to limit public input and to not be on the cutting edge,” Kennedy continued. “I think we have to put this at the seat of the City Manager and the Police Chief.”
City spokesman William Boyer noted that the current policy is subject to change in the future, pointing to the announcement’s comment that “body-worn cameras are a new technology … there will likely be changes to the policy governing their use over time as there is more real-world experience with them.”
The official police department policy for the use of body worn cameras is available at http://cityofpasadena.net/EkContent.aspx?theme=Navy&id=8589944294&bid=0&style=news&bid=0