Body Cameras

Los Angeles Reverses Course on Police Body Camera Secrecy

A new plan would release footage in cases of officer-involved shootings and use of force.

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Police body camera
Mbr Images / Dreamstime.com

Los Angeles may be about to reverse course and approve a plan that would make public body-camera footage of some police incidents.

The Los Angeles Police Department has been operating under a policy that treats police body-camera recordings as though they are not public records. As a result, the LAPD has absolutely refused to release such recordings to the public without a court order.

The LAPD persisted with this policy even after getting a $1 million federal grant to pay for the body cameras. So the taxpayers shelled out for the expensive system but officials refused to provide the government transparency that was the reason for demanding the cameras in the first place.

Under a new policy that the city's Police Commission is expected to approve today, the LAPD will release video evidence of what they describe as a "critical incident" within 45 days, or even earlier if the police chief decides it's in the public interest.

The policy defines a "critical incident" as: Any officer-involved shooting, regardless of whether anybody was hit; any use of force resulting in death or bodily injury requiring hospitalization; deaths in custody (unless there's no preliminary evidence of use of force, misconduct, or violent behavior by the detainee); and any other encounter that the police chief or the commission deems in the public interest.

The policy also includes privacy protections to safeguard the identities of juveniles and victims of some crimes, including redactions and blurring of faces as necessary. The policy also allows for the delay of video release to protect the safety of people (including police officers involved) and to protect sources of ongoing investigations. The policy requires specific, fact-based explanations for any delay request and requires unanimous approval by the police chief and the commission. We will have to see how that actually gets implemented in practice.

This is an excellent first step in moving away from terrible policies that subvert the purposes of body cameras, which are to help both document what happens in encounters between police and citizens and to properly hold all parties involved for misbehavior.

We've seen what has happened in North Carolina as a result of a state law that shields body camera footage from public records laws unless judges order their release. In Greensboro, police and a local judge blocked the release of footage of a teen's violent arrest by police. The judge said this was to protect the reputation of the arrested teen and his family, even though the family itself was petitioning the court for its release. A police officer in Asheville, meanwhile, faces charges for beating an alleged jaywalker, but only after the body camera footage was leaked to a media outlet.

Even under the LAPD's restrictive policy, we were starting to see leaks. Last November, footage got out that seemed to reveal a police officer planting cocaine on a suspect stopped for a hit-and-run crash. Note that such video footage still would not necessarily be released under the new policy, so there's still more work to be done.

Read the policy draft here.

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  1. The LAPD persisted with this policy even after getting a $1 million federal grant to pay for the body cameras. So the taxpayers shelled out for the expensive system but officials refused to provide the government transparency that was the reason for demanding the cameras in the first place.

    This is a weird juxtaposition. Since the LAPD is a government agency, the taxpaying/civil forfeitted public pays for everything they do anyway. It’s not like the transparency concern would disappear absent the federal grant.

    1. Well, you could argue that the federal grant raises the bar. Absent the federal grant, the plaintiffs would have to rely only upon state or local rules to force the LAPD to change their policy. With the federal grant, the plaintiffs can try to add First and Sixth amendment claims to their complaint.

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      1. Does that help pay for the body cameras?

  2. Also about to be released by the LAPD: a falling donut crumbs screensaver, made from actual bodycam footage.

  3. A police officer in Asheville, meanwhile, faces charges for beating an alleged jaywalker, but only after the body camera footage was leaked to a media outlet.

    To be fair, the jaywalker ran. That pretty much guarantees a beating from most cops.

  4. I wouldn’t want this to be a backdoor method of turning everyone’s life into a reality TV show.

    This sort of footage should be released when relevant to the public – that is, if there’s reason to inquire if the police misused their authority.

    1. Bad boy, bad boy, whatcha gonna do, Eddie, when they come for you?

      1. Is that show still on?

        1. 24 hrs a day on cable.

        2. It almost has it’s own cable channel.

    2. I wouldn’t want this to be a backdoor method of turning everyone’s life into a reality TV show.

      Feh, that’s the end-game no matter what. Some day people will have smart-phones built into their heads.

  5. the LAPD will release video evidence of what they describe as a “critical incident” within 45 days, or even earlier if the police chief decides it’s in the public interest.

    IOW, the LAPD won’t release a damn thing.

  6. The policy also allows for the delay of video release to protect the safety of people (including police officers involved) and to protect sources of ongoing investigations.

    Loophole: Found.

    1. That loophole is gonna get crammed so full of cops it’ll look like an underage prostitute in Oakland.

  7. …the LAPD will release video evidence of what they describe as a “critical incident” within 45 days, or even earlier if the police chief decides it’s in the public interest.

    Or else what?

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  9. Witnesses and suspects should be allowed to review all available video before giving their statements. Police do that before they write their reports. If it makes sense for one, it makes sense for all.

  10. The damn things ought to live stream to the web, with full backup held by a corporation not subject to any police influence whatsoever.
    If we are going to go full surveillance let’s do it right!

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