Local Government
New Technology Means New Rules for Law Enforcement

New Technology Means New Rules for Law Enforcement

By David Bejarano, President of the California Police Chief Association.

California is a trend setter for the rest of the country on many subjects, and law enforcement is no exception. Every year, our law enforcement agencies adapt in response to modern technology, community engagement, and countless other issues. In addition, the California Legislature passes dozens of bills that change our criminal justice system. This year, technological advancement was a driving force behind new law enforcement policy.

Among the laws passed in 2015 were new tools for law enforcement to pursue cybercrimes, including doubling the maximum fine on certain felony computer crimes, improving the ability to prosecute revenge porn cases, and enhancing laws against soliciting someone to hack into a computer or smartphone. While these laws expanded law enforcement’s ability to combat crimes, other laws focused on trying to improve law enforcement transparency in relation to modern technology. Undeniably, with the spread of technology comes increased privacy concerns.

Senate Bill (SB) 178, by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) created the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), which requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before accessing electronic information. The legislation was based largely on a United States Supreme Court Case, United States v. Riley, in which a suspect’s cellular phone was searched without a warrant. The California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) worked hard with Senator Leno to strengthen individual protections, without impeding law enforcements ability to investigate crime. Finding that balance was a major success.

CPCA also worked on a measure to create similar community protections for the use of cellular communications interception technology. Often referred to by their brand names, “StingRay” or “HailStorm,” public information about these devices was restricted by non-disclosure agreements that prevented law enforcement from sharing basic information. SB 741 by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo/Santa Clara Counties) now requires agencies to maintain security procedures and privacy policies in order to protect the information collected by these devices. But nowhere was the concern for privacy and transparency more prevalent this year than in the debate around body-worn cameras (BWC).

California has been a leader in the development of BWC policy. Vacaville Police Department has used BWC’s since 2007, and Chief John Carli is one of the leading experts in the field. Additionally, the landmark BWC crime experiment by the University of Cambridge was conducted on the municipal police in Rialto, California and led by Chief Tony Farrar. That study has been nationally recognized for the significant findings that showed the use of BWC’s correlated to a drastic reduction in reports against officers and use-of-force incidents.

This year, CPCA contributed to a measure to help guide BWC policy across the state. Assembly Bill (AB) 69 by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona) established a guideline to help departments develop their own policy for the storage and security of BWC footage. These guidelines include recommendations related to the downloading and storage of data, and the operation of the cameras themselves. Again, the goal has been to move towards a model that ensure public safety and police accountability in a manner that protects the individual needs of California’s diverse municipalities.

New technologies bring new opportunities and expectations. As developments continue, we expect to see continued legislation that aims to regulate the use of body worn cameras, increase transparency, and protect the privacy of civilians. At the same time, we must work to ensure that such legislation does not tie the hands of law enforcement professionals who share a common goal of saving lives.

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