The Los Angeles Police Department is about to outfit every officer with a body camera that will record their interactions with the public. Officials say the 7,000 cameras will help bring clarity to controversial encounters, guard against officer misconduct and clear cops accused of wrongdoing. However, these recordings are unlikely to be made public. And in this era of YouTube, that doesn't sit well with some residents.
Although the LAPD's policy has yet to be finalized, Chief Charlie Beck said the department doesn't intend, in general, to release the recordings unless required by a criminal or civil court proceeding. The LAPD considers the recordings evidence, he said, investigative records exempt from public release under California's public records law.
At two recent community meetings on the body camera issue, police commissioners and top brass heard from residents who questioned why the public would not get to see the footage. Many said that by withholding the recordings from the public, the department would undermine the transparency and officer accountability touted by proponents, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"If there's going to be video footage," Topanga resident Julie Levine told the Police Commission, "that footage should be available to both sides, so we can have an equal playing field."
The audience clapped.
However, experts say there are legitimate privacy concerns — such as when officers enter someone's home or when minors are recorded — police must take into account.
At the public meeting in Canoga Park, Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said he believed it was possible to strike the right balance and protect the rights of people on both sides of the camera.
"This is not for YouTube. This is not for TMZ," he said. "This is for maintaining the city's safety. This is for protecting people's constitutional rights and their rights to privacy."