The Santa Barbara Police Department has announced it will be installing video-recording equipment in its patrol cars, but the city’s police chief and mayor say they won’t be allowing the public to view that footage, despite the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury recommending they do so.
Last fall, the grand jury found that every law enforcement agency in the county, except the Santa Barbara and Guadalupe Police departments, had audio/visual recording equipment in their patrol vehicles.
On Tuesday, the council will be asked to approve the city’s responses to the jury report, which are included in a letter signed by Mayor Helene Schneider and Police Chief Cam Sanchez.
The jury issued that report just two weeks before the department was embroiled in an incident with one of its DUI officers.
Officer Aaron Tudor’s car was outfitted with a test camera on Oct. 21 when he pulled over driver Tony Denunzio on suspicion of drunken driving. Some witnesses say excessive force was used by Tudor, but Sanchez maintains that no rules were broken.
The incident galvanized the argument for patrol-car documentation, and the city agreed to put in cameras at the grand jury’s recommendation.
Police officials say they’ve found funding to buy the cameras, and are testing out two different systems. They expect to decide on one within two months.
By allowing the public access to the recordings, the department would increase transparency and could actually reduce the amount of litigation brough against the department, the grand jury said.
The grand jury had recommended that law enforcement allow citizens to view the recordings prior to filing a legal complaint or filing a juvenile petition, but the city said it won’t do that because
“it is not warranted or reasonable,” according to its letter to the grand jury.
The letter states that any recordings taken can be obtained through the discovery process of a lawsuit, and that any recordings that don’t have an “evidentiary nature” can be accessed through the California Public Records Act.
A second recommendation from the grand jury stated that all law enforcement should provide verbal and printed notices letting people know how they could view the recordings.
The Police Department also stated that it found that recommendation unwarranted and unreasonable.
“The Santa Barbara Police Department maintains that there is no affirmative duty or legal requirement on the part of law enforcement to inform the public of the audio/video recordings
obtained during the course of a citizen contact, since members of the public have no reasonable expectation of privacy during the course of these contacts,” the letter states.
The grand jury also recommended that the city evaluate the financial savings of implementing their recommendations.
“The Santa Barbara Police Department believes it is unreasonable to assume that an accurate fiscal analysis could be pursued given the large number of variables which exist in the scenario created in the above recommendation,” the letter states.
Tuesday’s council meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.