Body Worn Cameras Go to Court

Up to this point, law enforcement leaders have deployed body worn cameras into the field while, seemingly, managing any opposition from the rank-and-file and/or labor representatives. However, concerns are now being raised by police labor leaders regarding the conditions by which BWC’s will be implemented, as evidenced by a recent lawsuit filed by the Riverside County Deputy Sheriff’s Association. The lawsuit alleges that the introduction of the BWC amounts to a change in working condition.

The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act provides the collective bargaining platform for policies that are a mandatory subject of bargaining. Plainly, the MMBA obligates employers to bargain in good faith with employee representatives about matters within the “scope of representation.” This includes “all matters relating to employment conditions and employer-employee relations, including, but not limited to, wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.” Not surprisingly, more and more peace officer associations are requesting to negotiate policies or protocols accompanying the implementation of BWC policies. Citing to such issues as privacy, training, storage and access to the film, and rules concerning the usage of BWCs, several California police unions have insisted their departments suspend the implementation or roll-out of any proposed BWC program until a mutually agreed upon policy is created.

The concerns regarding the implementation of the BWC’s goes beyond the Riverside Deputy Sheriff Association’s lawsuit. According to Peace Officers’ Research Association of California President Mike Durant, the rush to implement the cameras created concerns about consistency between California law enforcement agencies. PORAC, as the umbrella organization representing the interests of some 67,000 California peace officers, is working with police labor associations in drafting legislation to codify the use of BWCs in an effort to mitigate disparities. The retention of recorded video, the relationship to the release of videos upon request and privacy issues are among the concerns being addressed. Durant hopes that labor, police leaders and the Legislature can collaborate on developing sensible policies for the use of BWCs.

With BWC use gaining support in California and nationwide, the legal community is working feverishly to establish best practices and recommendations. (See: The Public Records Act Brings Potential Body Worn Cameras Issues Into The Light, Privacy and Fourth Amendment Issues Among Legal Concerns for Law Enforcement Use of Body-Worn Cameras and Police Officer Body Worn Cameras: The Future is Now)

It remains to be seen whether all these groups will reach consensus on the issue anytime soon. In the meantime, the public scrutiny of law enforcement will likely continue to rise and the outcry for BWCs will keep increasing — despite any legal objections.