On Friday Sept. 11, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) released edited video footage from body cameras of two separate incidents that led to police related deaths. The videos were released to the San Francisco Chronicle as a response to a California Public Records Act request (which calls for inspection and/or releasing governmental records to the public when it is requested, unless the law prevents this), but had been rejected prior. The videos were also released as a means to resolve rumors of the deaths being inflicted by the police.
However, the same footage was released a few weeks ago to several journalists, under the condition that they could not release this information to the public. According to SF Gate, the footage was still under investigation at the time.
Since then, several questions have been asked about this action by folks, from the intent of releasing these videos to how much should be edited in videos from body cameras. Body cameras have stirred debate amongst many, especially after the death of Mike Brown last year. As journalists and editors, we understand the importance of releasing information to the public, especially when vital to our community in Oakland. We felt that this case of releasing information was prolonged, especially because the public wanted to know about these particular deaths.
The Campanil recognizes the benefits of body cameras used by police, yet we also notice the potential issues that can come along with them. We believe that footage like these two cases only work when the entire truth is being told, not just parts of it. We have to be able to trust those in power of using them — in this case, the police — to do the right thing and share the stories of deaths and cases of brutality.
The OPD has had a shaky history with its citizens, especially with police force, brutality and deaths. Because of the videos, we also questioned the OPD’s intentions. We wondered how releasing edited footage would build trust with citizens.
At the same time, the fact that the videos were edited was problematic to us. According to the report, the footage was edited for timing purposes. It made us wonder that if body camera footage can be edited for an aspect such as timing, what other logic can be used to edit the footage. The Campanil feels that with body cameras, footage, etc., regulations on editing footage must be set and enforced in the future. In particular, regulations have to be put in place for cases involving police brutality and deaths.
We also thought about the reactions from others seeing videos involving police brutality. We imagined the potential shock and negative reactions after their release. The Campanil felt that while videos like these do have sensitive content, it allows our community to be aware of police brutality and related deaths to it.
As members of the Oakland community, we have a right to know what is happening in our city. While the OPD has a bit of work to do to build trust with its citizens, we feel that these videos have both a positive and negative impact with that goal. We also feel that if videos were to be released to the community, it has to tell the truth, even with issues such as timing. Even if the videos are too long, we have a right to see what really happened in these cases.