Com­mis­sion OKs body cam­eras for all LAPD of­fi­cers

Ac­tion comes af­ter heated de­bate. ACLU with­draws sup­port.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kate Mather

Los An­ge­les will be­come the largest city in the na­tion to equip all its pa­trol of­fi­cers with body cam­eras, af­ter a di­vided Los An­ge­les Po­lice Com­mis­sion on Tues­day gave its fi­nal ap­proval dur­ing a heated de­bate that high­lighted lin­ger­ing con­cerns about how the cam­eras will be used.

The 3-1 vote that signed off on the LAPD’s rules for the de­vices comes as po­lice de­part­ments across the na­tion are con­sid­er­ing whether to use the body cam­eras to pro­vide a bet­ter record of of­fi­cers’ ac­tions af­ter a se­ries of racially charged po­lice killings.

But who will get to see the videos and when re­mains a di­vi­sive is­sue.

On Tues­day, two po­lice com­mis­sion­ers got into a tense ex­change over whether po­lice of­fi­cers should be al­lowed to re­view the footage be­fore writ­ing their re­ports or giv­ing state­ments to in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia op­posed let­ting of­fi­cers see the videos first, ar­gu­ing that the prac­tice would give them an op­por­tu­nity to shape their ac­counts around what the record­ing showed. Giv­ing of­fi­cers — but not the public — a chance to look at the footage also un­der­mined the ac­count­abil­ity that the cam­eras are in­tended to bring, the or­ga­ni­za­tion said.

Com­mis­sioner Robert Saltz­man agreed, say­ing the depart­ment needed to be mind­ful of a wide­spread public per­cep­tion that of­fi­cers aren’t al­ways truth­ful.

But LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck said al­low­ing of­fi­cers to first look at the footage would help them “get to the truth of what oc­curs,” a key ob­jec­tive of us­ing the body cam­eras. Beck said he doesn’t in­tend to make the

public in the vast ma­jor­ity of cases, cit­ing pri­vacy is­sues and the fact that they could be used as ev­i­dence in crim­i­nal or civil cases.

Over Saltz­man’s ob­jec­tions, a ma­jor­ity of the com­mis­sion’s mem­bers voted in fa­vor of Beck’s rec­om­mended pol­icy. The ACLU then dropped its sup­port for the cam­era pro­gram.

“It re­ally falls short on most of the is­sues that we thought a body cam­era pol­icy had to ad­dress,” said Peter Bib­ring, a se­nior staff at­tor­ney at the ACLU chap­ter.

Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Steve Soboroff said he un­der­stood the con­cerns but be­lieved the pol­icy ad­dressed many of the is­sues raised dur­ing the last sev­eral months and could be­come a model for other law en­force­ment agen­cies.

“It’s an ex­cit­ing start to his­tory,” he said. “But with that comes a re­ally big re­spon­si­bil­ity for this depart­ment to do this cor­rectly.”

Tues­day’s de­ci­sion was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in a roughly 18-month ef­fort to ob­tain body cam­eras for the LAPD. Upon join­ing the com­mis­sion in 2013, Soboroff be­gan rais­ing pri­vate funds to buy the de­vices and avoid the fi­nan­cial and bu­reau­cratic re­straints that have ham­pered the LAPD’s past at­tempts to ex­pand its tech­nol­ogy.

As the depart­ment moved for­ward with its plan, a se­ries of high-pro­file po­lice killings sparked a heated na­tional de­bate about po­lice, com­mu­nity re­la­tions and the use of deadly force, par­tic­u­larly against black men. The pos­si­bil­ity of equip­ping of­fi­cers with body cam­eras quickly gained trac­tion as a way to bring more clar­ity to con­tro­ver­sial po­lice-civil­ian en­coun­ters, guard against of­fi­cer mis­con­duct and clear of­fi­cers ac­cused of wrong­do­ing.

In De­cem­ber, Mayor Eric Garcetti ex­panded the ef­fort by an­nounc­ing a plan to out­fit ev­ery LAPD of­fi­cer with a body cam­era, say­ing that the city would buy 7,000 de­vices. The LAPD crafted its pol­icy af­ter seek­ing in­put from civil lib­er­ties groups, legal ex­perts and pri­vacy ad­vo­cates, post­ing a Web sur­vey and host­ing com­mu­nity meet­ings. The depart­ment also con­ducted months of closed-door ne­go­ti­a­tions with the union that rep­re­sents rank-and-file of­fi­cers.

The pol­icy calls for of­fi­cers to turn on the cam­eras be­fore most “in­ves­tiga­tive or en­force­ment” ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing the public and en­cour­ages them to alert civil­ians that they are be­ing recorded, but does not re­quire them to ob­tain con­sent. It strictly pro­hibits of­fi­cers from mod­i­fy­ing the record­ings and out­lines sev­eral safe­guards to en­sure that the de­vices work prop­erly.

It also re­quires of­fi­cers to look at footage prior to writ­ing re­ports. But of­fi­cers in­volved in a se­ri­ous use-of­force in­ci­dent, the rules state, may be al­lowed to re­view the video only af­ter be­ing au­tho­rized by an in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

LAPD of­fi­cials told com­mis­sion­ers Tues­day that the in­ves­ti­ga­tor could deny an of­fi­cer the chance to re­view the record­ing if, for ex­am­ple, the use of force could re­sult in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Saltz­man raised con­cerns that such an ex­cep­tion was not spelled out in the pol­icy, then went on to say he did not sup­port al­low­ing of­fi­cers to re­view the record­ings be­fore giv­ing pre­lim­i­nary state­ments.

“I’m find­ing it quite frus­trat­ing that this pol­icy, given the amount of time that’s gone into it, doesn’t speak to th­ese is­sues,” Saltz­man said.

Soboroff in­ter­jected, say­ing that Saltz­man was “ar­tic­u­lately say­ing one ex treme side of this ar­gu­ment.”

“Well, Mr. Pres­i­dent,” Saltz­man shot back, “I don’t think I’m ex­treme.”

Com­mis­sioner Kath­leen Kim did not at­tend Tues­day’s meet­ing, but sided with Saltz­man in a state­ment read on her be­half. Kim called the pol­icy “gen­er­ally sound,” but said she also had con­cerns that of­fi­cers might try to ad­just their state­ments based on an early re­view of the record­ings.

And like Saltz­man, Kim wanted more clar­ity on when and how body cam­era footage might be shared pub­licly. Although the pol­icy specif­i­cally pro­hibits of­fi­cers from re­leas­ing footage, it does not men­tion any guide­lines for when the depart­ment might do so.

“Leav­ing it com­pletely opaque is a mis­take,” Saltz­man said af­ter Tues­day’s meet­ing.

A po­lice union board mem­ber told com­mis­sion­ers that the group sup­ports al­low­ing of­fi­cers to look at the footage be­fore mak­ing a state­ment and called the pol­icy “fair, rea­son­able and con­sis­tent” with fed­eral rec­om­men­da­tions and the LAPD’s cur­rent pol­icy for cam­eras in pa­trol cars.

Com­mis­sion­ers re­quested the in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port within six months on how the cam­eras were be­ing im­ple­mented.

Garcetti said in a state­ment that he was “proud Los An­ge­les is set­ting the na­tional stan­dard both by de­ploy­ing body cam­eras for ev­ery of­fi­cer on the street and with this care­fully crafted pol­icy.”

Af­ter Tues­day’s vote, Beck de­fended the new rules, telling re­porters that the pol­icy was “born from com­pro­mise” and was con­sis­tent with stan­dards used by other agen­cies and rec­om­mended by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice.

“We’ll re­view it af­ter the cam­eras are rolled out,” he said. “If it needs to be ad­justed, we’ll ad­just it.”

Christina House For The Times

THE CITY plans to buy 7,000 body cam­eras for LAPD of­fi­cers. The ACLU with­drew its sup­port, say­ing that al­low­ing of­fi­cers to view videos could let them shape their ac­counts based on what was shown.

Don Bartletti

CHIEF BECK says of­fi­cers should be al­lowed to re­view video footage be­fore writ­ing re­ports or mak­ing state­ments.

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