LAPD body camera footage won’t be released to the public

LAPD body camera footage won’t be released to the public
As the Los Angeles Police Department prepares to outfit its force with body cameras during interactions with the public, civil rights groups are concerned over the idea that footage won’t be made public outside of court proceedings.

Body cameras are being touted as one way to increase accountability by recording police interaction with the residents, but questions are looming about what happens to the recorded footage and who controls the material. LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck recently said the footage would not be released to the public and would be available only through criminal and civil court proceedings, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Critics, like the American Civil Liberties Union, argue if this happens it will ensure zero accountability once 7,000 body cameras are deployed and officers know that footage won’t be seen unless it’s showing their side of the story (in criminal cases) or working against them in civil suits. That’s especially the case considering how many civil suits are filed, how often settlements are paid and how often officers are granted a minimum partial immunity in civil cases, the ACLU said.

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If this becomes confirmed policy, it is likely prompted by certain activists in other cities who have placed Freedom of Information Act requests for all body camera footage in perpetuity.

Additionally, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), the union that represents LAPD officers, is broadly supportive of body cameras, but they want officers to review the videos before writing up their reports.

To the ACLU, allowing officers to see this video beforehand could influence the way they shape the encounter before it becomes public.

That would be a ridiculous policy,” Peter Bibring, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, told the LA Weekly. "They're less likely to lie if they don't know what the video caught and what it didn't. This is enormously important. It's the difference between this being a tool to promote accountability and this being a tool to assist in cover-ups."

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The ACLU is worried about privacy, as well as the potential distribution of footage to sites like YouTube and TMZ. There are also concerns over safeguards that would ensure police won’t be allowed to pass a video around department for the amusement of officers.

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The LAPPL, however, argues it is worried about a potential “gotcha mentality” in internal affairs reviews.

"We believe that our officers have not only a duty to be accurate, but a right to be accurate," the union argued. "To that end, the review of video and/or audio evidence before writing reports, testifying, or submitting to interviews [is] not only important, but vital to that goal."

The LAPD’s first wave of 800 cameras – costing $1.5 million – has been financed by 22 private donors, including director Steven Spielberg and the LA Dodgers organization, Tech Dirt reported. While traditional public funding would likely have been available, this one-time fundraiser has allowed the process to move much faster than it would have running through the usual city channels.

Andrew Burton / Getty Images / AFP

The ACLU is worried about privacy, as well as the potential distribution of footage to sites like YouTube and TMZ. There are also concerns over safeguards that would ensure police won’t be allowed to pass a video around department for the amusement of officers.

The LAPPL, however, argues it is worried about a potential “gotcha mentality” in internal affairs reviews.

"We believe that our officers have not only a duty to be accurate, but a right to be accurate," the union argued. "To that end, the review of video and/or audio evidence before writing reports, testifying, or submitting to interviews [is] not only important, but vital to that goal."

The LAPD’s first wave of 800 cameras – costing $1.5 million – has been financed by 22 private donors, including director Steven Spielberg and the LA Dodgers organization, Tech Dirt reported. While traditional public funding would likely have been available, this one-time fundraiser has allowed the process to move much faster than it would have running through the usual city channels.