After the police killing of George Floyd sparked protests nationwide filled with tear gas and rubber bullets, San Jose lawmakers demanded transparency from the police department — and, to an extent, they got it.
The public can now view footage capturing police use of force at recent protests. On Tuesday, the City Council reviewed which clips have been released and which were withheld.
Videos captured by protesters, news organizations and residents were compiled into five separate videos posted to the San Jose Police Department’s website. They include a collision between a police motorcycle and a pedestrian, the arrest and use of force against a man pulled behind the police line, an incident where an officer cursed at a protester and protests along Highway 101.
But a major chunk of police videos are being held back. Police body cam and helicopter footage have not been released due to ongoing investigations, according to law enforcement officials.
Dave Knopf, assistant police chief, said some investigations could take up to one year to complete. Police Chief Eddie Garcia, some cases related to the protests are being put on the backburner because of other more pressing cases.
“There have been some events that have occurred after the protests that we’ve had to put up on the front of the line that we feel have a lot of importance,” Garcia said. “That also adds to the caseload of Internal Affairs.”
Councilmembers were sympathetic to the process, but agreed videos ultimately needed to be released.
“Obviously, there are issues around due process and privacy concerns and we have to respect that,” Vice Mayor Chappie Jones told the San José Spotlight. “But I think that the more information we can release, the better it is for building confidence in the community.”
The council will continue its discussion to explore a process for promptly releasing more police videos.
“Why shouldn’t we just release video?” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “If we know it’s an issue of intense public concern and there’s already ample public video out there anyway, why wouldn’t we want folks to understand what really happened?”
The mayor said releasing full video clips of incidents can provide important context to a situation where officer use of force is called into question.
“What we see on social media typically are five or 10 second clips that show an officer perhaps using force and omitting all of the information that would be relevant to lead one to understand why officers are using force and to understand whether or not that use of force was proper, lawful or excessive,” Liccardo said.
According to a July 23 memo from Garcia, hundreds of complaints have been filed from residents about officers’ behavior during protests. The complaints have prompted more than 20 investigations.
Garcia also wrote that one party filed a protest-related claim with the city. Additional claims are possible because people can file up to six months after an incident, he said.
The decision to publicly release video footage came after lawmakers demanded more transparency following a flood of complaints about the use of rubber bullets and excessive force at protests.
“It improves our transparency, but it also will help the public understand the context better because we will provide more than five seconds of footage. We’re not going to be putting it up on TikTok.” Councilmember Dev Davis said. “I think it’s important for us to have that be out in the public.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.