LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and Chief Charlie Beck outlined plans Thursday for seeking community input on establishing policies for the release of body camera footage taken during critical incidents.
Under the current policy, LAPD body camera footage is not publicly released, whether it be a shooting or a use of force. The footage is only released for use in a trial or by order of a court. However, the police commission intends to change that.
Input will be gathered in four community forums around Los Angeles and through a questionnaire available online or on paper.
“It’s our mission to get this policy right, and in doing so, we are reaching out to the public,” said Matthew Johnson, president of the Board of Police Commissioners.
“These videos are people generally on the worst day of their lives, and sometimes the last day of their lives,” Beck said.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference at the Police Administration Building downtown, Beck said the resulting policy will likely be a compromise that will please no one.
“This is a balancing act that will have an end result that will be the best servant of everybody’s needs, recognizing that probably no one will get exactly what it is they think should be the perfect policy,” Beck said.
The City Council approved a $59 million plan last June to equip Los Angeles Police Department officers with body cameras, and the department plans to issue the cameras to all patrol officers by the end of this year.
“Today we are commencing a public input process specifically to reevaluate that policy as it relates to officer-involved shootings and critical incidents,” Johnson said. “This is probably the most significant issue around body cameras.”
Both Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti supported the idea of all patrol officers wearing body cameras, but some groups critical of the department, including the American Civil Liberties Union, were opposed to the use of body cameras unless the public had access to the footage.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union which represents all LAPD officers, is staunchly against releasing body camera footage to the public. In a statement Thursday, the LAPPL wrote:
“Releasing excerpts of body worn camera video will only further inject politics into what should be an independent investigation of any particular incident. Video is only one aspect of an investigation and to push for release of that video, prior to the completion of the investigation, will only taint the impartiality of the investigatory findings and that is not what the Chief should be striving for.”
Barry Friedman, director of the Policing Project, said the organization will help gather the data and submit a report to the commission.
“I think the country is going through a learning experience in how to engage the community in policing matters and we are learning along the way and learning from other experiences,” Friedman said.
Beck said that simply releasing all videos all of the time is not as easy as it sounds.
“There are so many interests that have to be balanced. There’s civil liability, there’s criminal liability, there’s the interests of victims, the public’s need and right to know. But all of these compete,” Beck said.
Johnson said the public comment period will end May 7 and the commission hopes to have a policy in place by the fall.
Online comments on the policy can be submitted at policingproject.org. The first of four scheduled community forums is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Van Ness Recreation Center at 5720 Second Ave.
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