Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse and his staff made a major push for body camera equipment for 160 officers before the Burbank City Council last month. The pricey proposal, more than a million dollars, lacked the details that most council members felt were necessary, so the motion to move it forward failed. However in light of the developments nationwide about the positive impacts of bodycam video, the council will have to revisit the subject sooner than later.
Body camera video can be game changer
Meanwhile, former University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing, is due back in court later this month. On July 30, Tensing pleaded not guilty to murder and voluntary manslaughter charges in the shooting death of a black man he pulled over for not having a front license plate. Last Thursday Tensing was arraigned and within a few hours, he was free on $1 million bond. Tensing’s body camera video appears to contradict his police report, which claims he shot Samuel DuBose in the head out of fear for his life: “… was almost most run over by the driver… and was forced to shoot the driver.”
Over the past few years there have been several violent encounters involving law enforcement and civilians caught on video — which has shown discrepancies in the “official explanation” of what went down in those incidents. Last December, the White House called for a “… $75 million investment over three years ” to “help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras…” for state and local law enforcement agencies as part of an initiative it hopes will “… build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities.” The initiative was part of the fallout from the controversial killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri last August.
The Burbank PD has submitted a grant application to the Justice Department for one of the grants under a new federal Body Worn Camera Partnership Program. Even if the grant is approved, the BPD stated in a staff report to city council, the agency would still need somewhere around $1.6 million to implement its own bodycam program and there would be annual costs as well. Burbank Police Chief LaChasse told the council, “we really need to move forward like other departments nationwide to be able, really, to be on the cutting edge.”
The BPD asked the city council for $570,543 to get the bodycam program rolling, but the motion for the funding died. The issue of the body cameras is not really dead, only stalled. Most likely, the BPD staff is already working on a new plan to present to council at a later date. Nevertheless, there is a way right now for the Burbank PD to step up its crime fighting game, strengthen trust and communication with the community, with no additional money or personnel needed. The department can do this by revising its archaic mug shot release policy.
Archaic mug shot policy
My beef with the BPD’s policy on the release of booking photos goes back to March of 2010, when Burbank middle school teacher Amy Beck was arrested and charged with having sex with a male student. It’s a case that attracted major media attention. Beck got a deal and would later plead “no contest” to two counts of having sexual contact with a minor. The once popular sixth grade teacher was sentenced to two years in prison and is now a registered sex offender.
LaChasse, who had recently been hired as interim police chief, refused to release Beck’s booking photo. The official reason was “… we don’t consider Ms. Beck a danger to the community.” Several months later, I wrote a post about the decision by the BPD to release the booking photo of a man accused of a lewd act on a child. Rather than come up with a comprehensive policy, Chief LaChasse issued a blanket command forbidding the release of ANY arrest photos. That’s an easy solution for a new police chief, but five years later it is still the policy of the BPD and that is troublesome.
This past June the issue came up again when I requested a mug shot of Burbank High girls’ volleyball coach Kyle Roach who was arrested and booked for felony charges of oral copulation with a minor, annoying or molesting a child, and possession of child pornography. I was told “city/department policy, we don’t release booking photos.” The BPD news release sent out to the media about Roach’s arrest included the following:”Anyone who may have further information, or believes they may be a victim, should contact the Burbank Police Department (818-238-3000).”
As we well know, a photograph speaks volumes . In the case of a suspect, a mug shot is a current image — not some outdated photo you might find on the Internet. A photo adds a visual element that enhances a story, therefore, a mug shot picture increases the chances of media exposure. For the public, a photo can be a sharp jolt to the memory for a victim or a witness in an investigation. An arrest photo is an important crime fighting tool used by many law enforcement agencies. However, it is one Chief LaChasse is leaving on the table.
Response from City Hall
I brought the issue up to some city officials, including LaChasse’s boss city manager, Mark Scott. This is how Scott responded through email:”…I do understand that booking photos are public information, but I also understand that a huge number of arrested people are never charged and taken to court. We release the names and arrest information, but have not felt compelled to release booking photos in press releases. Legal counsel on this is to either always do it, or never do it (except in cases where the public’s immediate assistance or safety is involved). I appreciate that opinions on this vary and, yes, I have worked in cities where there was a different policy.”
Back in 2003, then-State Attorney General Bill Lockyer affirmed in an opinion: “.. furnishing a mug shot to a member of the general public, including the news media, would not violate the arrested person’s constitutional right of privacy.”
Weighing the rights of an individual against the needs of the community is a heavy responsibility. The Burbank City Council members are the guardians of the public interest and it is time for them to take a stand on this important issue.