The spotlight was on patrol officers at the Mission Division in Mission Hills this week as they began receiving body cameras on Monday, Aug. 31.
The Mission Division is the first LAPD station to receive the controversial cameras as part of a roll out of 860 cameras that will be distributed to three LAPD divisions over the next month.
“I think the officers here at Mission, I think they realize that they’re making history today, to be honest with you, by putting these cameras on,” LAPD Capt. Todd Chamberlain said.The Mission station serves the Arleta, Panorama City, Sylmar, North Hills and Mission Hills areas.
Officers at the Newton Division will receive them Sept. 15, and the Central traffic and specialized divisions on Sept. 28.
“I really think that this piece of technology is going to be really beneficial, not just to Mission area but [also] to the communities that we serve, as well as the department overall,” Chamberlain said.
The Taser body cameras are designed to be worn on the chest and were purchased using $1.5 million in private donations raised by the Los Angeles Police Foundation.
The city of Los Angeles is also considering purchasing another 7,000 cameras to outfit the entire police department at a cost of about $10 million. Funding was included in this year’s city budget but has not been appropriated, with city officials still waiting on federal grants that they hope will pay for half of the costs.
The body cameras overall are viewed as an appropriate response for calls for police “transparency,” but critics are taking issue with the process for reviewing camera footage.
They include members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who point out that the footage under the current policy will not be available to the general public.They also contend that under the present policy, police officers are given the advantage of viewing the video before giving testimony about alleged excessive force.
Police Commission President Steve Soboroff has said the panel plans to revisit the policies governing the use of the cameras and the footage.
Under the policy adopted by the commission in April, officers involved in use-of-force incidents, such as police shootings, would not be allowed to view footage from the body camera unless the force investigator gives permission. But officers must view the video before being interviewed by investigators.
The policy also call for body cameras to be activated before an investigation or enforcement action begins, such as vehicle or pedestrian stops, car and foot chases, searches, arrests, use-of-force, witness and victim interviews, and crowd control. Officers have the ability, however, to shut the camera on or off.
If an officer is unable to activate the camera in time, or if the camera fails to record, the officer must note the reasons and circumstances in a daily log.
Under the rules, officers will be allowed to stop recording if the witnesses or victims being interviewed say they will not make a statement on camera, and as long as the encounter is not confrontational.
Officers can decide not to record if they feel it would interfere with an investigation — such as in a rape, incest or sexual assault cases — or due to a victim’s or witness’ age, emotional or physical state or other sensitive factors.
They can also deactivate the camera if they feel the life of an undercover officer or informant is in danger, and if they are in a health-care area with patients or at a rape treatment center.
Soboroff, meanwhile, pointed out that if more than one officer is on the scene, there will be available footage from a variety of angles from officers supplied with body cameras, which should provide more information.
A strong debate continues on why the footage won’t be released to the public.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California dropped its support over two policy points that allows officers to review the footage before making a report or statement and allows them to not publicly release the recordings unless there are circumstances that involve a criminal or civil court proceeding.
“Body cameras won’t provide transparency if they never show footage to the public,” said Peter Bibring, an ACLU senior staff attorney. “If there’s a controversial shooting or an incident of misconduct, it’s crucial for the public — if they’re going to have faith in the process — to see what actually happened.”
The body cameras have a 12-hour battery life and hold five-and-a-half hours of footage. The footage is downloaded to Apple’s iCloud service and the video information from the police body camera is to be supplied every single time an officer returns to his or her station.