Shirley King | Avenida Primavera
Sunshine Week in San Diego in mid-March is much more than our usual temperate climate at its springtime’s best. It is when the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists (SDSPJ) shines the light on the public’s right to know. And the City of Del Mar was in the high beams on March 19th when it was bestowed with the SDSPJ’s inaugural Windows Award 2015.
SDSPJ’s newly designated Window’s Award goes to the public official or agency that most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know in 2014. The City of Del Mar was the winner out of three nominations. In response to a California Public Records Act request, Del Mar released a 10-minute video last year that showed a reserve sheriff’s deputy reacting angrily after a traffic stop by a city park ranger. The deputy lost his job. The video was released in September, and the city revised its body-camera policy in December. According to the officials of SDSPJ, Del Mar acted in the public’s best interest at a time when other police agencies have refused to release body-camera videos. One nomination said: “One request submitted and footage was released.”
The Society of Professional Journalists is a professional organization that includes broadcast, print, and online journalists, journalism educators and students interested in journalism as a career. Its annual Sunshine Week is a call to the public for nominations to honor people who fight for open government. At SDSPJ’s annual award ceremony, its prestigious Sunshine Award was given to a team of TV journalists from competing networks who collaboratively pressured officials to open the records of the high profile investigation of a missing family.
Paired with the esteemed Windows award is SDSPJ’s Walls award - going to a public official or agency that made it hardest for journalists to do their jobs in 2014 - ignoring requests or otherwise compromising the public’s right to know. The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) was the recipient. In marked contrast to Del Mar’s transparency, Chief Shelley Zimmerman has publicly said she won’t release most of the body-camera footage to the public and that if she did, it would be at her discretion. As noted by SDSPJ, the SDPD repeatedly told the public that getting police body-cameras would increase public trust and add transparency.
Given the uncharted terrain involved with body-camera information for law enforcement purposes in our country, it is to the credit of our City Manager, Scott Huth, who stands by the statement that it is important to the City to make sure that we are open and transparent in our activities and providing public records is a part of that process. With this award our small city has raised the window and the bar for other public agencies to follow the lead.