Pasadena Police Chief John Perez is planning to announce changes to the city’s body worn camera policy that are intended to provide more transparency, according to a department spokesperson.
If the department approves the new policy, video footage of critical incidents could be released no more than 45 days after the event, according to Lt. Jason Clawson. Perez is expected to make the announcement of the changes sometime in September.
The Pasadena Weekly has also learned that Perez has formed a special committee of citizens, including some of the department’s biggest critics, to advise the Chief on community and policy issues.
“We’re looking at what other agencies are doing,” Clawson said.
When it comes to body cameras, “We’re looking at how we can roll out footage of critical incidents 45 days after the event. If we can do things better we will,” Clawson said.
Pasadena and Alhambra are the only departments in the San Gabriel Valley that employ body-worn cameras, according to Clawson.
There is no law mandating the release of footage of body-cam footage shot by cameras officers wear while on duty or dashboard footage shot from police cruisers.
Local advocacy groups have called for mandatory release of the footage since the city adopted the policy in late 2016.
The current policy gives the department the ability to release the footage, but it also allows information to be withheld if it is deemed to be part of an investigation or if there are privacy concerns.
“CICOPP [Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police] and POP [Pasadenans Organizing for Progress] have long advocated that footage of critical incidents be released as soon as possible and not be left to the discretion of the police chief,” said attorney Elbie “Skip” HIckambottom Jr.
Hickambottom will review the proposed changes to the policy next month along with other members of the newly formed Community Advisory Committee.
The proposed changes to the policy could be rolled out as early as September, according to Clawson.
Besides Hickambottom, the committee includes local activists Juliana Serrano, who serves as the senior associate for the Office for Creative Connections and Peace and Justice at All Saints Church, Immigration Activist Pablo Alvarado, local retiree Bertha Williams, Old Pasadena Management District President and CEO Steve Mulheim, Tarek Shawky, a local defense attorney, and Armenian National Committee member Shoghig Yepremian.
“Pasadena in many areas is a step ahead of other police agencies,” said Vice Mayor John Kennedy. “The implementation of body- worn cameras in the Pasadena Police Department is a positive to the community and the police. It holds us all accountable as a city. The policy [change] is another step in the right direction.”
If it is approved by City Manager Steve Mermell, the new policy would match changes made by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) earlier this year. The LAPD changed its policy following a recommendation from the department’s civilian oversight board that requires the release of video from critical incidents — including fatal shootings, in-custody deaths and the use of police force that results in a death — within 45 days, in most cases.
In June, the LAPD voluntarily released body-camera footage showing a two-hour standoff with a man who died in custody after being shot with a bean bag. The release marked the first time the LAPD voluntarily released body-camera footage to the media.
News of proposed changes to the Pasadena police policy came on the same day city officials released dashboard camera footage that appears to dispute the claims of two women who said they were sexually assaulted by police officers during a traffic stop.
Clawson said the new policy had nothing to do with a $25 million lawsuit filed by the two women.
On July 17, the city released footage of the 2016 police stop.
Sharell Thompson, 43, and her daughter Sharaya Brown, 22, claimed that Thompson was forced to show her breasts and Brown was fondled and molested during a “nightmare of a traffic stop.”
City officials decided to release the dashboard camera footage last week, which does not appear to substantiate the claims of misconduct. The incident took place before body-worn cameras were issued to the department’s 275 employees, and there was no additional footage of the incident.
“The only modification of video of the incident was the intentional blurring of the license plate number of the vehicle, done only to protect the involved individuals,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian. “Because the incident occurred in 2016, it was prior to the implementation of body-worn cameras on Pasadena police officers. The city of Pasadena stands by the truth.”
Besides that incident, city officials have previously released footage from two other incidents. In one case, much like the Thompson and Brown incident, the footage seemed to absolve the officers, and in another instance release of the footage fanned community outrage.
In December, Mermell announced he was publicly releasing dashboard footage and body-worn camera footage of a violent police stop involving Altadena resident Christopher Ballew, which revealed Ballew was repeatedly punched, struck with a baton and at one point had his face slammed into the asphalt.
The city released six videos of that incident, including footage from the dashboard camera, one of the officers and officers that responded to the event. Officers Zachary Lujan and Lerry Esparza are on desk duty pending the results of an internal affairs investigation.
In January, city officials conducted a media briefing at Pasadena police headquarters to play a 911 recording and show police footage of the 2017 police stop and arrest of Kelvin Jankins, an Altadena man who filed a lawsuit claiming police falsely arrested him after an unreasonable search and seizure. The lawsuit further claims officers and city jailers “threatened, assaulted, battered” and subjected Jankins to excessive force, which left him physically and mentally injured after he was taken into custody following a traffic stop on Navarro Avenue near Howard Street.
Police appeared to follow procedure in the video, which did not show Jankins being assaulted by officers.
Under the current policy, officers can review video of critical incidents, including shootings and use-of-force cases, before making a statement. That policy is already in place regarding video footage taken by cameras in police cruisers and cannot be changed since it is part of an agreement between the department and the Pasadena Police Officers Association (PPOA).
Allowing the officer to view the footage also forces the officer to make a mandatory statement. Officers are prohibited from tampering with or dismantling any hardware or software component of the body-worn camera. Also, officers are not required to activate the cameras if it compromises their safety to do so.
“We want to get ahead of the media and speculation when a critical event occurs,” said Clawson. “We have to put the video out there. It’s about transparency.”