After resisting calls to release the footage for a few-and-a-half months, the San Jose Police Department finally let it out of the bag on Sept. 11.
The body-cam videos of three high-profile encounters at the George Floyd protests came with lengthy written justifications of officers’ actions and left out a lot of key incidents.
But for the local police union, they still showed too much.
In an email obtained by San Jose Inside, San Jose Police Officers’ Association (POA) President Sgt. Paul Kelly told members that he was trying to get the city to retract the footage and edit out any information that allows people to identify individual cops.
The letter sent three days after the video release slams the city for offering “no indication that [officers’] privacy and safety had been taken into account in this rushed decision.”
Kelly went on to argue that while the department was directed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and the City Council to release the footage, the videos shouldn’t have shown “images of officers’ names, badge numbers or other identifying features.”
“We have seen far too frequently in other jurisdictions the dangers when officers are confronted by dangerous individuals,” Kelly explained in the Sept. 14 missive. “Based on numerous events across this country, in which officers have been attacked at their residence after their identities were exposed, action needed to be taken to help prevent, reduce and minimize potential harm to officers.”
The union leader said he believes officers’ rights were violated under California Government Code §3307.5, which requires employers to obtain cops’ consent before releasing their image. Per the email, the POA sent a letter to the city demanding they remove the videos and only repost them when officers’ identities were obscured.
Acting City Attorney Nora Frimann, however, says the code Kelly cites “predates other law that requires the release of these types of videos unless the POA or an officer provides a specific, articulable and particularized reason to believe that the disclosure of the videos poses a significant danger to the physical safety of any particular officer or officers.”
“The POA’s attorney did not provide that type of specific information concerning the physical safety of officers,” she adds.
David Snyder, head of the First Amendment Coalition, said California open-records law allows the un-redacted videos to be made public. “The Public Records Act generally requires the identities of police officers to be released except in narrow circumstances that I don’t believe are met here,” he says.
Despite the pushback, Kelly promised the POA’s “efforts to remove and replace the videos with appropriate blurring of our officer’s identifying information will not stop.”
“If necessary we will enforce your rights in court,” he assured.
POA spokesman Tom Saggau told San Jose Inside that the union would like to sit down with the city to hammer out a policy for releasing of body-cam footage without compromising police safety or exposing them to doxxing.
Below is the full text of Kelly's email.
Nothing matters more to the POA Board of Directors than the safety of you and your family. We are navigating uncharted waters right now and must rely on our collective experience to ensure safe passage through these turbulent times.
On Friday morning, the Department informed the POA that videos related to the riots, which some George Floyd protests descended into in June, would be released to the public that afternoon.
Unaware of the content of the footage that would be released, we voiced immediate objection because the Department gave no indication that your privacy and safety had been taken into account in this rushed decision. Although the department was directed by the mayor and City Council to post these videos to www.youtube.com, and by law nothing precluded the release of most of the content in the videos, images of officers’ names, badge numbers, or other identifying features, were depicted.
Release of such identifying features presents serious safety issues for officers. We have seen far too frequently in other jurisdictions the dangers when officers are confronted by dangerous individuals.
Based on numerous events across this country, in which officers have been attacked at their residence after their identities were exposed, action needed to be taken to help prevent, reduce, and minimize potential harm to officers.
We believe that officers’ rights under California Government Code 3307.5 (officers must permit employer’s release of their image) may have been violated. On Friday afternoon, evening and over the weekend, we conferred with counsel, as well as the Chief’s office, seeking to remedy this clear breach of officer safety.
After careful review of the videos, we wrote to the chief’s office demanding that the videos be taken down from city-controlled platforms and reposted only when officers’ identities were protected. While the content was already made available to the media, our efforts to remove and replace the videos with appropriate blurring of officer’s identifying information will not stop. We await the city’s response; if necessary we will enforce your rights in court.
Separately, we demanded to meet and confer with the City to construct a policy that incorporates appropriate officer safety and privacy considerations being considered before materials are disclosed to the public.
We all understand the inherent risks with our profession. But that does not mean that we need to be further exposed to dangers while off duty at our homes, places of worship, stores, or anywhere else.
We will continue to defend common sense protections afforded us by the law and we will continue to stand up to protect you and your families.