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Rules Governing Use of Police Body-Worn Cameras Provoke Backlash at City Council on Monday

“Secret” discussions and alleged lack of public input about the final policy incite public reaction

Published on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 | 6:30 am
Left: Council members Andy Wilson (L) and Victor Gordo (R) listen to comments on body-worn camera policy. / Right: Vance Martin testifies before City Council

Concern and even anger over policies guiding the use of body-worn cameras by Pasadena police just hitting the streets yesterday morning dominated Monday evening’s City Council meeting – even though the item was not on the meeting’s agenda.

More than a dozen public speakers railed against the cameras’ implementation on the streets of Pasadena without what speakers felt was sufficient public input before the governing policy was finalized.

Many speakers also objected to a pair of key policies: one, which allows officers to view incident footage before giving testimony to police investigators, and the second, the option given to officers to not activate their cameras in certain life-threatening situations.

The body-worn camera policy was developed and finalized by Police Chief Phillip Sanchez.

Sources including the City Manager’s office have described the process as comprised of public input during Public Safety Committee meetings, a focus meeting with concerned citizens, various discussions with members of the City Council and finally a series of “meet and confer” meetings with leaders of the Pasadena Police Officers Association union.

Although a draft policy was published for public discussion, the final policy implemented by Sanchez after the union discussions was issued with no specific public discussion. The final policy differs from the earlier draft version.

“It’s called ‘meet and confer,’ not ‘meet and capitulate,’ not ‘meet and cave in,’” said local civil rights attorney Elbee “Skip” Hickambottom, referring to the police union meetings.

Hickambottom took issue with the idea of the PPOA union having what he called the final word on developing the camera policy.

“The City Manager and the Chief of Police work for us, not for the police,” he said.

City Manager Steve Mermell, who announced the implementation of the new camera in an announcement in his weekly newsletter last week, also noted in response to the flood of criticisms that the Council’s Public Safety Committee would be meeting November 21 for a more detailed discussion.

“It’s a challenging and a burgeoning area,” said Mermell, “and as we implement these policies, things could change. If we hear something in the discussions, we could act on it.”

Councilmember John Kennedy appeared visibly angered during the discussion of the implementation of the camera policy.

“Your process trampled on the rights of the people you represent,” Kennedy said to Mermell.

City Attorney Michele Bagneris then attempted to halt discussion about the body camera policy among the Councilmembers, reminding them that the item was not on the agenda and could not be discussed in detail.

She allowed the various public speakers to continue, however.

Pasadena resident Vance Martin echoed Kennedy’s sentiments, exclaiming that the “Halloween masks are now off Pasadena’s leadership. I really thought there would be more dialogue before this implementation. To allow a bargaining unit to decide matters of justice is inappropriate.”

Katherine Wagner of the ACLU took particular issue with allowing officers to view video footage before being interviewed by police investigators, and then allowing officers when to decide to turn on their cameras.

PPOA Union President Roger Roldan told the Council that officers had undergone detailed training sessions over the last week, along with a line-by-line policy review.

“Police policy is best left up to the experts,” Roldan added.

The body worn camera policy will be discussed at the next Public Safety Committee meeting November 21.

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