The Los Angeles Police Department has revealed its much-anticipated body-camera policy for officers. The proposed rules will go to the L.A. Police Commission for its consideration tomorrow.
The department says the nonprofit Police Foundation will supply an initial run of 800 body cameras that will be worn by officers “within the next several months.” An additional 4,500 taxpayer-funded devices are expected to be deployed sometime afterward. Some cops have already worn them as part of a test drive.
The proposed rules would require cops to record their contacts with the public, prohibit officers who use the devices from releasing embarrassing video (sorry, TMZ), and admonish cops to let you know you're on camera when they stop you.
But there were a few major omissions, and the ACLU of Southern California isn't pleased.
The civil liberties group is disappointed that the policy doesn't include a mandate to release video clips to the public in controversial or contested situations, including deadly confrontations. There are, of course, numerous examples of citizen or security video contradicting the stories of officers involved in beyond-the-law violence.
Says ACLU of Southern California executive director Hector Villagra:
The power we give to police officers to use force, even to take human life, is extraordinary — and the public deserves to understand how that power is used, not to be told 'just trust us,' whether the 'us' is the police department or it's civilian oversight.
The policy will also allow cops to review footage before writing their reports, allowing them to get their stories straight and depriving suspects the ability to test officers' credibility in court, which is often a point of contention. Again, Villagra:
That at best taints officers’ firsthand recollection of the incident with the perception viewed on the video, and at worst allows officers who are willing to lie to cover up misconduct an opportunity to provide an account that’s consistent with video evidence.
It'll be up to the commission to rectify these issues.
However, keep in mind that the five-member commission is appointed by the mayor. The mayor needs to keep cops happy, as politicians almost always seek support of law enforcement when they run for office.
Justice doesn't always result from this relationship.
It's possible that a policy of keeping footage from the public at-large could end up being tested by courts. It is, after all, the people's video.
The police department maintains that the policy is good for everyone. It says the rules were drawn up with the help of “a broad spectrum of stakeholders” that include cops, legal experts, academics and members of the community.
According to an LAPD statement, the policy …
… contains provisions to maintain the integrity of criminal and administrative investigations. In addition, the proposed order protects the privacy rights and civil liberties of the community and department personnel while enabling officers to collect reliable evidence for use in criminal prosecutions, use of force and citizen complaint investigations, and other reviews and examinations.
Villagra maintains that the document, as it stands, “suffers from serious flaws that undercut the very purpose of body cameras” and that it could “do more harm than good, fueling suspicion that cameras are being used solely to benefit officers.”
“Accordingly, the ACLU SoCal calls on the Police Commission to reject this misguided proposed policy, and instead adopt practices that would give the public confidence that cameras will reveal misconduct,” he said. “Otherwise we believe that LAPD ought to stop using body cameras altogether rather than be allowed to use them on these troubling terms.”