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This post has been updated to incorporate a response from the district attorney’s office.
San Diego Police Chief Shelly Zimmerman is going to keep deciding when police body-worn camera footage becomes public if San Diego Police Chief Shelly Zimmerman has any say over it.
Zimmerman doesn’t think the City Council needs to pass a policy stipulating when and how such footage would become public, she said during a Wednesday presentation on the city’s body camera program to the Council’s Public Safety committee.
Currently, Zimmerman’s police department and Mayor Kevin Faulconer decide on a case-by-case basis when to release footage.
Last month, the city attorney’s office released a memo that said the Council could pass a policy outlining when public disclosure was appropriate. Zimmerman said the current, ad-hoc set-up is best.
“I’m very comfortable with our policy,” she said.
Councilman Todd Gloria pressed Zimmerman on the issue. He said he has no interest in generating content for the evening news, but the public should understand the standard for disclosure.
“I’m not entirely clear under what circumstances you would release it now,” Gloria said.
Zimmerman was resolute. That’s a decision for the police department and the mayor’s office, she said.
“Victims call us into their homes after they’ve been … traumatized,” Zimmerman said. “To victimize them again just by releasing the video so that everyone can look at it, I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do.”
She said camera footage is often used as evidence, and its release could jeopardize ongoing investigations.
The city of Seattle posts all body-worn camera footage on a YouTube feed, with the identities of those who appear on it obscured. The department has been able to continue functioning effectively.
The American Civil Liberties Union has released its model policy for body cameras. It instructs departments to disclose footage with the consent of subjects and redactions of subjects’ identities.
Zimmerman also said the city might not need its own policy, because regional law enforcement leaders are working on a countywide protocol.
She said she’s working with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Sheriff Bill Gore, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and police chiefs around the county to write a uniform set of standards for when and how footage should be disclosed to the public.
That policy, though, will only deal with officer-involved shootings. It won’t address footage of any other potential officer misconduct for which there may be a public interest in disclosure.
Dumanis herself has touted the regional group working on this policy.
In late December, she acknowledged that selectively releasing footage might not be a tenable long-term policy.
She said at the time she was working with Gore and U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy to release a region-wide policy on disclosing footage of officer-involved shootings within the next three months.
That’s the same group to which Zimmerman referred.
But that would mean, based on Dumanis’ original timeline, that the region-wide policy should be released within the next seven days.
A spokesperson for the DA’S office said it was “very likely” a draft of the policy would be out soon and would be the subject of two town hall discussions sometime next month.
Zimmerman, at the committee meeting, said the group hoped to release the policy for public feedback within “the next couple months.”