Of­fi­cers’ pri­vate body cam­eras stir con­cern

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - MICHAEL BAL­SAMO

LOS AN­GE­LES — Amer­ica’s largest sher­iff’s of­fice still lacks a pol­icy for body cam­eras af­ter years of study­ing the is­sue, so hun­dreds — per­haps thou­sands — of its deputies have taken mat­ters into their own hands and bought the cam­eras them­selves.

It’s re­as­sur­ing for those Los An­ge­les County sher­iff’s deputies who have the de­vices, which sell for about $100 on­line, but it raises a host of ques­tions about trans­parency. Chief among them: How can the pub­lic be as­sured crit­i­cal footage will be shared if there are no poli­cies for what gets dis­closed?

“It’s a recipe for dis­as­ter,” said Me­lanie Ochoa, a staff at­tor­ney with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. “I would imag­ine of­fi­cers would be quite will­ing to turn it over if it paints them in a good light, but what is the ac­cess if it does not?”

Nearly ev­ery large U.S. po­lice de­part­ment has a pol­icy for of­fi­cers who wear body cam­eras, and it has be­come some­what com­mon to see video from th­ese cam­eras emerge — some­times due to court or­ders — af­ter high-pro­file shoot­ings and other clashes.

An es­ti­mated 20 per­cent of Los An­ge­les County’s 10,000 deputies have bought cam­eras for them­selves, ac­cord­ing to the county’s in­spec­tor gen­eral. Sher­iff Jim McDon­nell con­cedes some deputies have their own cam­eras but dis­putes that as many as 2,000 wear them on duty.

A 2014 re­port re­leased by the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment and the Po­lice Ex­ec­u­tive Re­search Fo­rum ad­vised po­lice de­part­ments against al­low­ing of­fi­cers to use body cam­eras they pur­chased them­selves.

“Be­cause the agency would not own the recorded data, there would be lit­tle or no pro­tec­tion against the of­fi­cer tam­per­ing with the videos or re­leas­ing them to the pub­lic or on­line,” the re­port said. “Agen­cies should not per­mit per­son­nel to use pri­vately owned body-worn cam­eras while on duty.”

There are some U.S. po­lice agen­cies that al­low of­fi­cers to wear per­sonal body cam­eras, but they have adopted poli­cies to ad­dress those con­cerns.

A po­lice de­part­ment in north­ern In­di­ana adopted a pol­icy in Jan­uary that al­lows its of­fi­cers to buy and wear their own body cam­eras. The Mishawaka Po­lice De­part­ment’s rules came af­ter a year of dis­cus­sions about how to store and han­dle the record­ings.

The Los An­ge­les County sher­iff’s of­fice is de­vel­op­ing a pol­icy that would set out guide­lines for deputies who wear their own cam­eras, though it’s un­clear when that pol­icy will be fi­nal­ized and put in place.

“It’s some­thing we saw the need for, we ini­ti­ated it, and it is work­ing its way through the sys­tem,” McDon­nell said.

Deputies have never cap­tured any use-of-force in­ci­dents or fa­tal shoot­ings on per­son­ally owned body cam­eras, McDon­nell said.

Ron Her­nan­dez, pres­i­dent of the union that rep­re­sents rank-and-file deputies in Los An­ge­les, says most deputies who bought their own cam­eras want to pro­tect them­selves in case some­one al­leges mis­con­duct.

“It’s re­ally a per­sonal pref­er­ence,” Her­nan­dez said. “The guys we have spo­ken to have said they thought it would be ben­e­fi­cial for them. They see the value in cover­ing them­selves.”

“I would imag­ine of­fi­cers would be quite will­ing to turn it over if it paints them in a good light, but what is the ac­cess if it does not?”

— Me­lanie Ochoa, a staff at­tor­ney with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.