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Body cameras may not give whole picture

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POSTED May 18, 2017 1:25 a.m.

Police body cameras may not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
And the wholesale release of raw footage in some cases could jeopardize the lives of witnesses.
It is just two points that San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar urges people to keep in mind when there a public clamor for a rush to judgment based on the erroneous belief that body camera footage is all you need to render a decision about the guilt or innocence of anyone involved in a police incident.
“Video is not 100 percent conclusive,” Verber Salazar told the Manteca Rotarians last week during a meeting at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.
The DA noted a police body camera only records what it sees. It may not record everything leading up to an incident or other contributing factors.
“It only gives you from its angle what happened in that moment of time,” Verber Salazar said.
The district attorney made it clear she likes body cameras but cautioned they are simply “another piece to the puzzle” needed to determine whether an individual —a suspect or a police officer — should be charged with the crime.
When wed with other evidence such as physical evidence, surveillance footage, cellphone footage from citizens, eye witness accounts, and such it can be a very effective investigation tool to plot out a more complete picture of what happened.
Editing the videos as is done when short clips of an actual altercation or shooting is seen on social media and TV leaves out what led up to the incident which is what sets the stage for an officer’s response and whether it was made based on training and proper protocol.
At the same time releasing raw footage of the body camera footage of an entire incident can jeopardize lives.
Verber Salazar pointed to witnesses talking to police officers that are recorded as they are doing so by body cameras.
“By releasing such footage we’d be giving gang members video of the witness who might be standing there with her daughter,” the DA said.
Not only that but it would also be recording basic information such as how to contact her for a follow up. The witness could also be providing the names of other witnesses that would also be recorded on the body camera.
Veber Salazar said police try to build a solid of enough case on other evidence so they don’t have to rely exclusively on a witness that has good reason to fear for their life. By releasing raw footage that public and other gang members can see, it could jeopardize lives.
Law enforcement has established protocols to deal with evidence which is why it is not released carte blanche. There is also the need for a fair trial for the accused that would be severely undermined if evidence was released on a wholesale basis without bringing all mitigating factors together.
It would be akin to dumping all the pieces of the puzzle together in a pile on a table and not piecing them together. And while anyone might be able to take those pieces and put them all together to reach a conclusion instead it is most likely that people would make a judgment without devoting the time and energy to complete the entire puzzle and then matching the various pieces up to the law to determine what unfolded is first degree murder, second degree murder, manslaughter, or justifiable homicide.
The district attorney said before evidence such as video is released she has a duty “to get the whole picture.”
“I must follow the law,” Verber Salazar said. “Sometimes I don’t like the law but that doesn’t matter.”
The DA said before her office charges someone with a crime they have to come to the conclusion “beyond a reasonable doubt” they did what they are being accused of doing.
“There is a high threshold to reach in charging a crime,” she said. “It is not our say as to (whether they should be punished. That’s not my job to determine guilt. That is the job of a judge and jury,”

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