Back in December, the Examiner was the first to report that Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks was supportive of having all EPD Officer’s wear body cameras:
Since then, the Northcoast Journal also took a look at the issue of body cameras:
In these articles, it is clear from Mills statements that he has some “legal questions” that need to be answered before implementing the new camera program. In the January newsletter, the police department made it plain that at least one huge concern they have is; all of this video subject to the public records act. A recent case in Washington brought to a halt one program because a person filed for all of the video collected and it would have taken a full-time staff to just download the video to produce for the PRA.”
First off, let’s deal with the “unnamed department” in Washington. That was pretty easy to figure out….it’s the Seattle Police Department! SPD has a huge budget and could afford to pay a person to handle all of the public records requests. They don’t want to do that, because they don’t want to get in any more Federal trouble. You see, the SPD is currently under a Federal Consent Decree and a huge part of the evidence supported the Federal intervention was because of dash cam videos. The US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division investigated SPD a few years ago, and using some of the footage from SPD the investigation concluded that “When SPD Officers use force; they do so in an unconstitutional manner nearly 20% of the time.” Readers did you catch that? 1 out of 5 people was subjected to unconstitutional use of force (at least).
The report also disclosed “SPD officers escalate situations and use “unnecessary or excessive force” when arresting individuals for minor offenses. This trend is pronounced in encounters with persons with mental illnesses or those under the influence of alcohol or drugs. (Sound familiar Eureka?) This is problematic because SPD estimates that 70% of use of force encounters involves these populations.” Then the next portion of the report should seem almost eerie:
“Multiple SPD officers at a time used unnecessary or excessive force together against a single subject. Of the excessive use of force incidents we identified, 61% of the cases involved more than one officer.”
This report is not only a very informative read; it also mirrors problems that have been persistent locally in the Eureka Police Department for decades. SPD is now being supervised by the Fed’s. Is that what Chief Mills is afraid of? We say, definitely!
Another big problem EPD has is the Public Records Act. Locally, no one has actually taken the City of Eureka to task for not releasing the videos they already possess. That’s right. Some in the local media have asked for videos, and been denied. But what hasn’t happened is someone suing for the rights to obtain those videos. We should clarify; they haven’t sued yet. And Chief Mills is glad of that. If the videos were released, then we might get a glimpse into the wonderful and not so wonderful acts of our cops! Just think of it. Let’s say someone like, oh let’s say, Verbena, Copwatch or the McClain family asked for all videos of then Sgt. Stephens from 2014. That might be a game changer folks.
Now some of you may ask: What right does anyone have to get a hold of dash cam videos from EPD? As of now, there’s no law in California requiring the release of videos. Chief Mills is very happy about that, and he is working hard to get body cameras that will record information that will be withheld from the public.
But (there’s always a but), the Chief may have made a few mistakes along the line, and we would encourage any Examiner readers that have an interest in public safety to pay attention. If one was to ask for videos from the month of December, the City would send back a letter saying that it is the Cities practice not to release videos. However, as the below links will show, EPD has released videos….that they think make them look good. We’re sure a crafty local lawyer or lawyers might be able to fight for EPD’s videos, as long as they have a client who wants them. So, will that be any of you or your friends, readers? We certainly hope so.