Los Angeles Cops Found To Be Tampering With Mandated Recording Devices
from the all-the-power,-zero-accountability dept
Who watches the watchers? Well, when you’re the Los Angeles Police Department, you watch yourself. And when that kind of watching seems to be inhibiting, you just screw with the “watching” equipment. (via Ars Technica)
Los Angeles police officers tampered with voice recording equipment in dozens of patrol cars in an effort to avoid being monitored while on duty, according to records and interviews.
An inspection by Los Angeles Police Department investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing antennas, which help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed.
These antennas, linked to both in-car camera systems and officers’ body mics, helped increase the recording range. Removing the antennas didn’t completely prevent recordings, but it did make it harder to pick up officers’ voices once they entered buildings or ventured further away from the receivers located in the vehicles. According to the manufacturer, the antenna boosts the effective range of the body-worn transmitters by roughly a third.
When you’re watching yourself (something prompted by a decade-long DOJ investigation of the LAPD), you have this luxury. No cop’s going to turn in another cop who removes an antenna or otherwise tampers with the department-imposed oversight measures. A whole lot of time elapsed between when the tampering was discovered and when it was finally brought to the attention of those charged with monitoring the monitoring.
Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department, were not briefed about the problem until months later. In interviews with The Times, some commissioners said they were alarmed by the officers’ attempts to conceal what occurred in the field, as well as the failure of department officials to come forward when the problem first came to light.
“On an issue like this, we need to be brought in right away,” commission President Steve Soboroff said. “This equipment is for the protection of the public and of the officers. To have people who don’t like the rules to take it upon themselves to do something like this is very troubling.”
This is very troubling, and while it’s nice of the Police Commission to admit that fact, this tampering points to the officers’ underlying resentment of nearly any method of monitoring or control. Many police officers don’t like being recorded in public by citizens, so it stands to reason they don’t much care for being recorded by the department itself. Hence, antennas go missing.
Those who are supposed to be making sure the police officers aren’t becoming a law unto themselves seem to have little interest in attacking the mindset that leads to this sort of behavior.
“We took the situation very seriously. But because the chances of determining who was responsible was so low we elected to … move on,” [LAPD Commander Andrew] Smith said, adding that it cost the department about $1,500 to replace all the antennas.
Too hard, won’t try. That’s the standard being applied to the LAPD. Instead of making an effort, band aids are being applied. Officers are now supposed to sign off that the antennas are in place at the beginning and end of their shift. This leaves a gaping hole in coverage (otherwise known as the shift itself) should officers decide they’d rather not be recorded. This hole has received its own band aid.
To guard against officers removing the antennas during their shifts, Tingirides said he requires patrol supervisors to make unannounced checks on cars.
Great, but considering there are many more officers than supervisors, and considering the fact that it took months before the missing antennas were brought to the attention of the Police Commission, who really believes this is going to stop officers from disabling antennas during work hours?
Oh, Commander Smith believes.
Since the new protocols went into place, only one antenna has been found missing, Smith said.
Well, that’s the sort of result you can expect from self-reporting. Sure, a few cops may get a verbal handslap from a supervisor if they happen to come across a missing antenna, but it’s a safe bet these supervisors aren’t any happier about their men and women being recorded while on duty. Because if they did care, it never would have gotten to the point where nearly half of the antennas in a single division went missing.
With these cops being charged with keeping department-issued antennas present and accounted for, some have opted to go a different route to avoid being recorded.
Last month, the department conducted a follow-up audit and found that dozens of the transmitters worn by officers in Southeast Division were missing or damaged.
This time there’s actually an investigation being opened, months after the original antenna abuse was uncovered by an internal audit (but hidden from the Police Commission). Judging from what’s happened previously, there’s very little reason to believe this will lead to the ouster of bad cops who don’t like accountability. A few scapegoats may be offered up to calm both the public and department oversight, but if a ten-year investigation by the DOJ failed to bring about the sort of systemic change needed, it’s highly unlikely an internal investigation will result in anything better.