Debate Continues on Alameda Body Camera Usage

Alameda is getting body cameras for the police department, but the policy governing usage is vaguer than some observers would like.


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Mataresse objected that no “disinterested parties” are part of the oversight process for deleting body camera video and while referencing paper records and email created by city employees, he rhetorically asked, “Do you ever destroy records, even with mistakes? Probably not.”

Later, in a interview, Rolleri said inadvertently taped data that sees the light of day could cause personal embarrassment or could become a human resources problem resulting in a complaint or lawsuit.

Yet at least for now, the public won’t ever view any of the video contained in Alameda’s police body cameras, because a recent U.S. Circuit Court opinion apparently views such video part of police investigations, which are exempt from public scrutiny.”

“I know that doesn’t sit well with people,” he added. “This isn’t me pounding my chest and saying, ‘I’m going to do whatever I want.’ If that ever changes, I’ll modify the policy.”

The city council is expected to consider the policy again, likely adopting one officially in October.

Another reason that Rolleri likes the notion of police body cameras is that footage can help mitigate high-stakes lawsuits against police. To some observers, the availability of video from the personal camera of the officer involved in the scuffle with the mentally ill man may have seemed like a factor in the $450,000 payout that settled the man’s case. But Rolleri said damages could have been higher, and proved the value of police body cameras for Alameda.

“I thought it was good luck for us; I know that might surprise some people,” Rolleri said, noting that the plaintiff in the case was asking for “exponentially higher” damages. “What was alleged is that he beat the guy when he was handcuffed,” Rolleri said. “The video showed that absolutely did not happen. A picture was drawn by the other side that there was this baton-swinging beating that was going on.”

The video showed otherwise, Rolleri said, and he was glad the officer had the camera on.

“I think most police departments are not unhappy this is going on,” Rolleri said. “Most often than not, it’s probably going to show that what the officer did was reasonable for the circumstances, and if it doesn’t we will deal with that. If you have one $5 million lawsuit and the video camera squishes it, it just paid for itself.”

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