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17 Dec, 2014 21:21

LAPD becomes first major police force to equip all officers with body cameras

LAPD becomes first major police force to equip all officers with body cameras

The Los Angeles Police Department will become the first major American law enforcement agency to outfit its entire 7,000-member force with body cameras, the Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday. LA will buy 2,000 cameras, starting with 800 in January.

At a news conference to outline his plans to implement funding for the equipment in the 2015-2016 budget, Garcetti said the cameras "are not a panacea, but they are a critical part of the formula. They're a great step forward."

The purchase of the initial 800 Taser body cameras will be funded by more than $1.5 million in private donations, Gizmodo reported. Policies on proper use of the cameras will be considered in early 2015, while the device rollout will happen within the next six months, the mayor’s office said. The remainder of the equipment will be fully deployed by June 2016 and paid for out of the city’s budget.

Los Angeles is not currently planning to make use of the money-matching program President Barack Obama announced at the beginning of December ‒ but has not yet been authorized by Congress.

"These cameras will be a critical step forward that will provide both the officers and Angelenos with recording evidence of their interactions, helping to address the uncertainty and questions that plague so many investigations," Garcetti said. "On the street things aren't always clear cut. This isn't TV. It's not easily scripted. It's not always easy to tie up the loose ends. So the more facts and evidence we have, the more likely it is that we can get to the truth no matter what happens on the street."

The LAPD has been under fire in recent months, including for the officer-involved shooting death of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old black man described by his family as having “mental problems,” just two days after Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown. According to the victim’s family, Ford was complying with officers at the time of the shooting, and was killed while face down in front of the police.

READ MORE: Man dies after being shot by police in Hollywood near Walk of Fame

"The trust between a community and its police department can be eroded in a single moment," Garcetti said. "Trust is built on transparency."

AFP Photo/Andrew Burton

The department began a pilot program, testing different types of body cameras in January. Officers spent 90 days trying out camera equipment while department officials gathered input from the inspector general, the American Civil Liberties Union and other law enforcement agencies that have implemented the technology, the Los Angeles Times noted.

"No big city department has done this," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said at the press conference. "Officers will have tremendously powerful evidence and the ability to collect it. We are starting a journey that will go on for decades."

Beck doesn't expect that the cameras will be recording all the time, but says they will address concerns about transparency. For example, cameras would not be used when officers interview victims of sexual abuse, but would likely be used when a suspect is in custody.

"To put forward that every Los Angeles police officer will record every interaction with people whose liberty they have taken away or people we interact with on the street says a lot about how much faith we have in our cops," Beck said.

Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission, called the mayor’s plan a “very big deal,” saying the LAPD’s use of the cameras could set a precedent for law enforcement agencies nationwide, according to the LA Times.

“There are more and more advantages of having cameras than we’ve ever thought,” Soboroff said. “It’s music to the ears of the LAPD and law enforcement and the community.”

The cameras will record audio and video, and the files will be stored in a separate location. They're the size of a mobile phone and it clips onto the front of a police officer's uniform. The battery is good for 14 hours, KABC reported.

Experts told Time that more than 5,000 of the 18,500 police departments around the US are either testing or using the cameras. Police departments in Washington, DC, Chicago, Illinois, Minneapolis, Minnesota and New York City are outfitting officers with body cameras as part of pilot programs to test their efficacy on the forces as a whole.

At the beginning of December, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered on her promise to veto a city council bill that would require police officers in the city to wear body cameras while on duty. She has said she wants a task force that is currently studying the issue to finish its assessment before any such program begins.