Is it weird that the Long Beach Police publicly released a trove of digital media evidence and police reports regarding this case? LBPD released hours of CCTV recordings showing the interior of a private home. They released hours of video taken by cameras pointed at East Stearns Street, plainly showing neighbors coming and going. They released recordings of people on the sidewalk minding their own business, perhaps unaware that they were under surveillance by the dead woman’s husband.
No one was arrested in this case. Even so, the LBPD released shirtless photos of the guy who set up the video cameras. They released detailed, high-resolution images of the interior of the dead woman’s home. They released more than 50 pages of unredacted police reports naming neighbors and others — often revealing the driver’s license numbers and home addresses of private citizens. (Many of the police reports on this site are redacted; redactions were applied by me, not by the LBPD.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that these documents were released. Now they can be analyzed by independent experts, and can be preserved in spite of the LBPD’s busy shredding machines. Still, it surprises me. What, exactly, is the LBPD’s policy on this type of thing?
I asked the LBPD directly. Here’s a pdf of our PRA correspondence. Sgt. Joshua Brearley told me that records maintained by the LBPD are subject to release in compliance with the California Public Records Act. So, presumably, the release of records in this case complies with California law. Sgt. Brearley also wrote that the LBPD doesn’t have any written policies or procedures regarding CCTV. Hard to believe, right? CCTV cameras are everywhere. How can the police NOT have a policy? (Sgt. Brearley did not reply to my attempt to clarify.)
Here’s an open letter I sent to Long Beach City Councilwoman Suzie Price earlier today.
On February 11, 2019, in response to my PRA request, Sergeant Joshua Brearley, Long Beach Police Department, Office of the Chief of Police, wrote: “The Long Beach Police Department does not have written policies specific to the retrieval or analysis of digital video evidence and CCTV.”
If true, this is deeply disturbing. In 2014, LBPD homicide detectives seized CCTV recordings from my sister’s home. Based in part on their misinterpretation of this evidence, detectives failed to properly investigate my sister’s murder. Detailed information about her case can be found at https://www.yogadeath.com.
According to attorney Jonathan Hak, an international expert on forensic video analysis and the law: “Relying on video evidence without expert interpretation risks the failure to reach the correct conclusions based on the evidence or worse, reaching the wrong conclusions.” On his blog, Mr. Hak writes about criminal cases in which CCTV evidence has played a role. Untrained detectives and unreliable “experts” who misinterpret digital media can very well botch an investigation. More at https://www.jonathanhak.com/.
Professional training in forensic video retrieval and analysis has been available to police departments for decades. Here, for example, is a document explaining basic best practices: https://leva.org/images/Best_Practices-DME_Acquisiton_V_3_0-01-2013.pdf
These guidelines are clear and practical. I wish that the LBPD had complied with them when my sister was killed in 2014. Five years later, the number of CCTV cameras in Long Beach has probably multiplied. The department’s ongoing lack of written policies and procedures suggests that there’s an unwritten policy of willful ignorance and incompetence. It’s indefensible.
In your role as chair of Long Beach City Council’s public safety committee, please instruct the LBPD to adopt written standards of practice regarding digital media evidence.