LAPD Finally Starts Fixing Its Awful Body Camera Policy, But It's Not All Good News

from the chipping-away-at-opacity dept

It appears the city of Los Angeles is finally going to revise its terrible police body camera policy. Nearly $60 million was spent outfitting officers with cameras, but the end result provided little value to taxpayers. As it stands now, the only way to access footage is to engage in civil litigation with the police department (over violated rights, not rejected records requests) or be a defendant in a criminal case. Even then, a judge still has to be convinced you have a right to see the footage, even if you’re one of the subjects.

The proposed law change would flip the situation entirely around, putting the burden on law enforcement to show why footage should remain out of public view.

Under the proposal drafted by Richard Tefank, executive director of the Police Commission, video shot during critical incidents — which includes shootings, in-custody deaths and other major events — would be released within 45 days. The new policy would apply to body cameras, in-car video, police facility surveillance video, drones and video, in the department’s possession, that was captured by third parties.

That very last bit is concerning as it gives police control of third-party footage, which will incentivize the seizure of bystanders’ phones and nearby businesses’ surveillance video. This might work if law enforcement only makes copies of this footage, leaving third parties free to release their footage whenever they want.

But it would definitely dial back the restraints on police-generated footage. It creates a presumption of release that must face review every 14 days if law enforcement agencies wish to continue withholding footage. Unfortunately, this process will still be mostly an inside job. Review of requested delays will fall on the police chief and two selected commissioners from the LAPD’s Board of Police Commissioners. While the Board is composed of five “civilian” commissioners, its independent power will be somewhat weakened by its limited presence during footage release reviews.

The single bright note in all of this is that it appears the Board is generally responsive to citizens’ concerns and complaints. According to the NBC Los Angeles story, this small step towards openness was prompted by public input on body-worn camera policies.

The commission last year retained the Policing Project at New York University School of Law to gather public input into a new policy regarding the release of body-worn camera video. According to a report it released last September, a majority of members of the general public who responded to a Policing Project survey said video shot during critical incidents should be made publicly within a short period of time.

It’s not as good as it could be. And the land grab on third-party video hopefully only limits the release of copies maintained by the LAPD. While it would be all but impossible to make the current situation worse, the hesitant step in right direction shows LAPD officials are starting to realize running a closed shop only further alienates the communities the department serves. Hopefully, additional public input will continue steering the agency towards more openness in the future.

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Comments on “LAPD Finally Starts Fixing Its Awful Body Camera Policy, But It's Not All Good News”

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Anonymous Coward says:

policing the police

Streamlining the process of accesing police videos could easily become a self-defeating mechanism, since easy access to police videos will naturally tend to make police more likely to turn their cameras off or operate with malfunctioning cameras or any other reason (real or made up) that yields the same end result of no police video available to the public.

One possible solution might be to have a separate agency, completely independant of the police, that maintains and accounts for all police cameras and videos in real-time.

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