Los Angeles Police Testing On-Body Cameras—Hooray!


Body Camera

Yesterday, Reason 24/7 noted the Los Angeles Times article reporting on that city's police department's trial deployment of body-worn cameras on 30 foot patrol officers. Requiring police officers is a great idea. As the LA Times noted officers have already reported good results:

LAPD Officer Jesus Toris said people notice the cameras.

"People have a different reaction when you approach them, so it does help," he said.

Supporters of the on-body cameras said the goal is to eventually have them for the entire Los Angeles force, ultimately saving the city millions in lawsuits.

"You wind up getting sued or wind up getting a complaint or something like that, it could have been alleviated had we had audio and video," LAPD Sgt. James Sterling said.

Police Chief Charlie Beck has said the addition of on-body cameras will be a helpful investigative and accountability tool, as well as a less expensive option than in-car video…

"The nice thing about this is there's a real consensus among some of the biggest critics of the department and the officers and the union that they all want this transparency," said [LA mayor Eric] Garcetti. "Everybody's convinced, look, this is going to show how bad the officers are or how good they are."

One quibble—the Times reports that the police intend to retain the video for five years. That is way too long.  I outlined more reasonable policies in my article, "Watched Cops Are Polite Cops":

…police officers should be subject to stiff disciplinary sanctions if they fail to turn their cameras on each time they interact with the public. In addition, items obtained during an unrecorded encounter should be deemed a violation of the subject's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure and excluded as evidence, unless there were extenuating circumstances, such as a broken camera. Similarly, failure to record an incident for which a patrolman is accused of misconduct should create a presumption against that officer.

Officer-worn video cameras do have the potential to violate the privacy of citizens. After all, the police frequently deal with people who are having one of the worst days of their lives. Police often enter people's houses to investigate disturbances and disputes. In such cases, video of someone's metaphorical (or literal) dirty laundry is nobody else's business.

Consequently, Stanley argues that strong rules regarding the retention, use, and disclosure of videos from police-worn cameras must be established and enforced. For example, videos should be retained for no more than 30 to 60 days, unless flagged. Of course, if the video contains evidence of a crime it should be retained just as any other evidence would be. Flagging would also occur for any incident involving force or that produces a citizen complaint. With the appropriate privacy protections in place, very little of police-recorded video would ever be retained or viewed.

Body-worn cameras should soon become standard equipment for all police officers.