Police videos don’t always tell the whole story

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La April 10, 2023
Presented by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, FIX PAGA: A Better, Fairer Way for Workers and Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership

Police videos don’t always tell the whole story

In response to calls for greater police accountability, California passed laws to make police misconduct records more accessible to the public and placed the state Attorney General’s office in charge of investigating police killings of unarmed civilians.

Following the 2018 Sacramento police shooting of Stephon Clark, who was unarmed, lawmakers now require law enforcement agencies to release body camera footage within 45 days of any incident when an officer fires a gun or uses deadly force. 

But as CalMatters’ criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara writes, agencies heavily edit these videos in ways that can shape public opinion before all facts of the case are known. 

Carried out by in-house production teams or private contractors, edits of full, raw video can include highlighting or circling objects in a person’s hand, slowing down footage at key moments, erasing or failing to transcribe audio, or failing to make clear which officers fired their gun, Nigel reports.

At times, the public and the media rely on these edited videos because they are the only documentation of a deadly police encounter available. As a result, these videos can hold a lot of sway.

  • Michele Hanisee, president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys: “While transparency promotes public confidence in the conduct of law enforcement, the pre-trial release of evidence has the potential to influence the testimony of witnesses, create bias in potential jurors, or create an environment that could justify a change in venue.”

Ken Pritchett, who works at one such private contractor company that edits videos for police, has pushed back against departments when police press releases contradict what is on video. For example, when a release states that police “immediately rendered first aid to a person they shot,” when there was actually a delay in administering help.

But he said he hopes his videos ultimately help to dispel any false narratives that might arise from these fatal incidents.

  • Pritchett: “Virtually every article we’ve seen about what we do, somebody accuses us of spinning for the police department, but I have yet to ever see an example put forward that shows that we’re spinning anything. And if they did, tell me, for God’s sakes. My entire goal is to make these straight, spin-free.”

More prizes for CalMatters: Our journalists won three more awards, this time in the prestigious Best of the West contest for media organizations in 14 states. Julie Cart won first place in environmental reporting for her series on the trauma faced by those fighting California’s wildfires. Jeremia Kimelman, John Osborn D’Agostino and Erica Yee won first place in informational graphics for their comprehensive water tracker. And the California Divide team won second place in social justice reporting for its groundbreaking series on wage theft.

Read more from our engagement team.


1 Legislative staff get a raise

The California State Senate in Sacramento on Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Robbie Short for CalMatters
The California state Senate in Sacramento on Aug. 8, 2018. Photo by Robbie Short, CalMatters

From state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:

As the California Legislature returns today from its week-long spring break, some of its staffers will be getting more pay.

The state Senate granted an across-the-board, 7.5% cost-of-living adjustment to more than 800 staffers on April 1 — part of an effort to recruit and retain staff amidst a tight job market and last year’s high legislative turnover. That follows a 5% raise last July, when Assembly staff also received a 7.5% increase.

  • Erika Contreras, secretary of the Senate: “With inflation driving up the cost of consumer goods and salaries being competitive elsewhere, it’s important to us as an employer that we compensate our staff fairly.”

A total cost for the raises was not available Friday. As of last October, about 20% of full-time legislative staff made more than $120,000, double the average salary in California.

The across-the-board increase is in contrast to prior adjustments, such as in 2015, when 4% raises were given to Senate staff who made less than $150,000 a year, 2% for those who made between $150,000 and $178,000 and 1% for those with salaries above that.

Contreras said across-the-board increases were important to be more competitive as an employer and keep up with inflation. She added that factors such as future budgets and the potential deficit were taken into account.

  • Contreras: “At the end of the day, this was a needed investment, and is intended to help the Senate retain institutional knowledge and recruit new talent. People have so many options for employment — we want to find and keep people who can build long-term careers with us.”

The raises come during the latest effort to unionize legislative staff. A representative of the effort said more money is always welcome — as is the improved health insurance Senate staff received last year. But the raise doesn’t address other job quality issues, such as lack of overtime pay.

2 Protecting students with debt

Students walk through the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2022. Photo by Raquel Natalicchio for CalMatters
Students walk through the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2022. Photo by Raquel Natalicchio, CalMatters

From CalMatters higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn:

While the $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt dominates the headlines, a different, tinier kind of debt can also have huge consequences for California students. Campuses across the state warn students that they may block them from enrolling in classes or place them with debt collection agencies if they owe money to the campus directly.

Proposed legislation being unveiled today — Assembly Bill 1160 by Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco, a Democrat from Downey — would bar any California college, private or public, from denying a student a degree or certificate because that student owes campus debt. Nor could schools block those students from enrolling in classes.  The bill also would ban schools from putting students in collections or asking the state tax agency to seize students’ tax refunds

One estimate is that 750,000 California college students accrued institutional debt between 2020 and 2022 and collectively owe $390 million. Much of that is from federal Pell grants low-income students must repay because they unexpectedly dropped out of school. 

Student government groups of the University of California and California State University have made the issue a priority and are cosponsors of the bill.

  • Alex Niles, president of UC Student Association: The practice is “exacerbating equity gaps at UC. It’s a pretty easy thing to just remove that. Like, relatively small amounts of debt should not have such outsized consequences for students’ ability to graduate or to continue their education.”

Pacheco, student groups and UC regents Marlenee Blas will hold a press conference debuting the bill today. (Former Assembly speaker John A. Pérez backed out of the event.) Pacheco’s office wouldn’t say whether any campuses have submitted opposition to the bill. “We are currently in communication with the segments regarding this proposal,” wrote Kierra Paul, Pacheco’s legislative director. 

The bill is to get its first hearing April 18 in the Assembly’s higher education committee.

3 What does abortion pill ruling mean for CA?

Bottles of the drug misoprostol sit on a table on March 15, 2022. Misoprostol is used as the second step in a medication abortion.Photo by Allen G. Breed, AP Photo
Bottles of the drug misoprostol sit on a table on March 15, 2022. Photo by Allen G. Breed, AP Photo

“Deplorable,” “unconscionable,” “extremist.” Those were some of the strong words from California’s Democratic leaders in response to the ruling late Friday suspending federal approval of the abortion medication mifepristone.

After last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling ending federal constitutional protections for abortion rights, California Democrats passed a raft of new laws, set aside money for out-of-state women coming here for reproductive health care and persuaded voters to protect abortion access in the state constitution

But this time their hands may be tied, as CalMatters’ health care reporter Kristen Hwang explains. A federal judge in Texas suspended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone, which for more than 20 years has been approved as the first of a two-drug regimen for medical abortions. The Biden administration is challenging the decision, but pharmacies could pull the drug while the case goes through appeal.

At the same time, a district judge in Washington state issued a ruling in a separate case that prohibits the FDA from making changes to the drug’s availability. With two contradictory rulings, experts say this legal gray area is enough to cause providers to stop distributing the drug. And because the Texas ruling challenges the FDA’s federal authority, there’s not much California and other states can do to push back in the meantime, Kristen reports

Nevertheless Gov. Gavin Newsom doubled down on the state’s commitment to abortion access, saying in a statement that “abortion is still legal and accessible here in California.”

In other reproductive health news, Sacramento City Council approved “quiet zones” around health care facilities last week. The new noise ordinance would disallow the use of microphones, megaphones and other sound amplifiers within 100 feet of a facility. The measure aims to discourage the harassment of patients seeking abortion treatment. 

But harassment can go beyond protesting outside facility walls. On Thursday, for example, the Justice Department announced that a Kern County man has been charged with phoning in death threats to Planned Parenthood offices in California. If convicted, the man could face as much as five years in federal prison.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Nearly a third of California’s public school students are chronically absent, but the crisis is not getting the attention it deserves.

A law aiming to curb pay-to-play influence in local government could make it harder for diverse candidates to be competitive and enable dark money from special interests, argues Garrett Gatewood, a Rancho Cordova City Council member.


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Should you have the right to know that CA is storing your child’s DNA? // CBS Sacramento

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San Jose police union’s political clout clouded by drug scandal // San Jose Spotlight

Peet’s is now the world’s largest coffee company // San Francisco Standard

LA Metro says its turning down the music volume at Westlake-MacArthur Park station // LAist

Opinion: Every San Diego elected leader must call on Fletcher to quit // The San Diego Union-Tribune

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