LAPD is rolling out the body cam project on Monday amidst concerns about privacy and transparency.
Recent accounts of police brutality have sparked an important conversation about racial profiling and police misconduct. Body Cameras are widely regarded as a positive step forward in the the fight for a safer and more just society.
Studies show that police use force less often and receive fewer citizen complaints when wearing these devices. Over the last year, Los Angeles has been conducting a pilot program to see how they can best implement these cameras on a broader scale.
Foot patrol officers in downtown began using body cams in January as part of the program to test their effectiveness. The city has also been conducting seminars intended to teach officers de-escalation and community outreach tactics. The much-anticipated use of body cameras is finally coming to Los Angeles on Monday, but not without hesitation and controversy.
With 7,000 cameras being deployed, this will be the largest body cam program in the country. Advocates say that the cameras, which will record both audio and video, will guard against officer misconduct and bring clarity to controversial encounters and possibly clear cops accused of wrongdoing.
$1.5 million in private donations from people such as Steven Spielberg and the LA Dodgers financed the first batch of 860 Cameras, which will be deployed in the next month. Officers slated to start using the body cams in September include those based in Southern LA and specialized units, such as Central Division traffic and SWAT.
In December, L.A. Mayor, Eric Garcetti said in a statement,
“The trust between a community and its police department can be eroded in a single moment. Cameras are not a panacea, but they are a critical part of the formula.”
The LAPD policy was approved by the city back in April in a 3-1 vote. The one opposition vote reportedly came from Commissioner, Robert Saltzman, who thinks body cameras are "a great idea," but has issues with how the footage will be handled after the fact. The policy stated that videos would not be made public unless they were part of a criminal or civil court proceeding. The LAPD considers tapes to be evidence or investigative records exempt from public record under California law.
According to the ACLU, this is not good enough. They want the videos to be public domain so that officers are held accountable for their actions. In a letter sent to the Police Commission on Monday, the ACLU stated that they did not approve of the current policy because it,
“undercut public trust that the cameras should be building.” It also states that, “California laws are some of the most secretive in the country when it comes to misconduct.”
Body cameras are relatively new technologies for police departments so the privacy laws and regulations vary from city to city. Whether or not the videos are made public also depends on state public record laws and the exemptions for police.
At a town hall meeting in February, one resident said,
“If there’s going to be footage, that footage should be available to both sides, so we can have an equal playing field.”
Chief of Police, Charlie Beck had a different opinion though, stating,
“I don’t think transparency means we post every interaction on YouTube.”
There are legitimate concerns such as when officers enter someone's home or when minors are recorded and privacy laws for these situations still need to be drawn up.
A poll released earlier this week shows 79% of those questioned think the public should be given access to findings and conclusions regarding investigations involving police misconduct.
-Bronte P., The Off the Grid Team
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.
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