City officials confirmed Tuesday that they are investigating the use of cameras by police officers in the workplace and the extent to which the cameras were hidden.
The confirmation comes after officials with the Modesto-Stanislaus branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People raised the issue at the Sept. 8 City Council meeting. Ceres officials had little to say then about the allegations aired by the NAACP.
“What was indicated at that meeting was there were rumors, and we won’t respond to rumors,” City Manager Toby Wells said last week when asked about the allegations.
NAACP branch President Frank Johnson has said his organization went public because it had received anonymous phone calls over a couple of weeks stating that police officers had placed a camera under the desk of at least one female city employee and in a changing room for female employees.
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City Attorney Michael Lyions said those allegations as detailed by the NAACP are not true but said the city has investigated and continues to investigate the use of cameras by police officers while on the job and the extent to which the cameras were concealed. Lyions declined to comment further, saying that because these are personnel investigations involving police officers, they are exempt from disclosure under state law.
Johnson said that since the NAACP aired the issue last week, female city workers who are friends of the women who claimed to have been targeted by the cameras have spoken with the NAACP. Johnson said three officers used the cameras on two women. He said a cellphone camera was placed on a chair across from where one of the women was working and that a camera was placed in a room the other woman used to change clothes.
Ceres officials said they are limited in what they can say, but that does not mean they don’t take the allegations seriously.
“From what I know about the situation and can speak about, the city is handling it in a professional manner,” Mayor Chris Vierra said. “I would assure the public that the city is doing the steps and the procedures that go along with these situations.”
Johnson said he understands there are privacy laws, but said there are other laws the city should consider. “There also are federal law and state law for what the police officers are doing,” he said. “It’s a crime. Whatever privacy rights they have are null and void because they have violated the law.”
Johnson said he and other NAACP officials plan to speak at Monday’s council meeting about the cameras and what he called other examples of the city not treating women and minorities fairly.
A Police Department news release states that the department has undertaken two internal affairs investigations regarding the officers and the cameras. The release states that the first one was initiated in October and the city took corrective action. The second investigation was initiated in May and has not concluded.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office said it received reports this summer from Ceres police regarding the allegations.
“Police reports of an investigation into someone’s concerns of possible surreptitious recording were provided,” District Attorney Birgit Fladager said in an email. She added that prosecutors could not establish that a crime had occurred based on the information received from the police. She declined to provide further details.