LAPD Officer Jin Oh displays video from a body camera. Some residents have raised privacy and civil liberties questions about the use of the devices. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles police officials are hoping to move a step closer Tuesday to becoming the nation’s largest law enforcement agency to adopt the widespread use of body cameras, but the LAPD’s proposed policy for handling the devices is drawing criticism.
Los Angeles police commissioners will discuss the LAPD’s recommended policy at their weekly meeting and could approve the guidelines or call for revisions.
The eight-page proposal comes after months of closed-door negotiations between the LAPD and the union that represents rank-and-file officers, as well as discussions with the community, privacy groups and other law enforcement agencies.
The recommended rules cover when officers must turn the cameras on (before most “investigative or enforcement” activities involving the public) and whether they must alert civilians they are being recorded (officers are encouraged to do so, but not required to obtain consent). It strictly prohibits officers from modifying the recordings and outlines several safeguards to ensure the devices work properly.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California issued a statement saying the policy has “serious flaws” and should be rejected by the commission. If not, the ACLU said, the “LAPD ought to stop using body cameras altogether.”
“The ACLU of Southern California has expressed optimism that body-worn cameras, if implemented properly, could build trust between police and the public,” Executive Director Hector Villagra said in a statement. “But the proposed policy will likely do more harm than good.”
Specifically, the ACLU took issue with the proposal that officers be allowed to review recordings from their body cameras before writing reports or otherwise documenting incidents.
The LAPD’s proposed policy allows officers to review the footage to “ensure that their reports, statements and documentation are accurate and complete.” It further states that when an officer is involved in a serious use of force, such as a shooting, they are permitted to look at the recordings from their body cameras and those of others — but only after being authorized by the investigator assigned to the case.
Those guidelines generally align with recommendations made in a 2014 report by a national police research group, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice.
But Villagra said letting officers review their footage could taint their recollection of the incident or allow them to change their stories to fit what is depicted on the recording.
The ACLU also criticized the policy for not fully addressing whether the public will be granted access to the footage. The proposed rules specifically prohibit officers from leaking the recordings, but do not stipulate whether the department will publicly release video.
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