In a historic first, Los Angeles is emerging as the largest city to ever employ body cameras for all of its officers. The rollout began Monday, for the Mission Division of the San Fernando Valley, with plans in place to integrate into South Los Angeles and special units like SWAT, by the end of September.
Other pilot programs in smaller cities have seen favorable results. The statistics are encouraging, where, according to LA Weekly’s interview with Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff, they “have had up to a 90 percent decrease in officer-related complaints and 50 percent less use of force.” He goes on to offer, “ If we transpose those numbers to our budgets—for litigation, for overtime, for lawsuits, for court cases—the savings in lives, and the savings in time, and the savings in dollars are just huge. It could be $30 or $40 million per year.”
Given the current disparity between many citizens and those that enforce the law, these body cameras indicate a step toward more accountability on both sides. As we are, undeniably, living in a time of violence and brutality toward and from law enforcement, having a clearer picture of where the breakdown in communication may be occurring, can help immediate instances and, hopefully, inform how we interact in the future.
However, one item of contention within the LAPD’s new program lies in the accessibility of these new recordings. The public is initially denied access, unless the police chief deem it prudent or necessary. Furthermore, drawing the ire of many Angelinos, as well as the ACLU, the officers will be able to review the images before writing and submitting reports or responding to internal investigation. The Southern California chapter of the ACLU has stated that, “giving officers but not the public a chance to look at the images undermines the accountability that the cameras are intended to reinforce.”
Another issue is that the onus is on the LAPD officer to begin recording when the situation or “policy” dictates. Commissioner Soboroff offers, “It’s all about training. I think it’ll take a little bit of time for officers, as part of their normal thing, to flip that camera on and flip it off, just really get the feel of it. But nothing other than that.”
Time will tell, as LAPD outfits the more than 7,000 officers of this city in the coming months. It is a good first step, and anything to raise accountability for the officers, citizens, and potential suspects is welcome. This evolutionary process cannot be without flaws and both sides of the equation will be watching closely and will hopefully be kept to a higher standard.
September 4, 2015 / Ryan Serey