Although ACLU SoCal supports body cameras in principle, we oppose the LAPD’s use of body cameras under the policies put forth by the department and approved by the Los Angeles Police Commission in April 2015. These policies suffer from serious flaws that undermine the goals of transparency and accountability that the body camera program should serve and undercut public trust that the cameras should be building. Our chief concerns regarding LAPD’s policy include:
- The policy completely fails to provide for any public access to body camera video. In public statements, both LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and high-ranking members of the department have repeatedly said that the department will treat body-worn camera videos as categorically exempt from disclosure under California’s public records law and will not release those videos unless required to do so in court proceedings. But the department also “reserves discretion” to release videos when the chief believes it would be “beneficial.” This lack of a policy creates the impression LAPD may release video that exonerates officers but not video that shows misconduct – an impression that only hurts public trust.
- It also provides no clear limitation against use of body camera footage as general surveillance of the public, such that the department remains free to use body cameras to track First Amendment-protected activity and to use other tools, such as facial recognition technology, in conjunction with body camera video.
- The policy allows officers under investigation for serious uses of force and misconduct to view body camera footage before making even an initial statement to investigators, thereby undermining the integrity of the investigative process.
- After an 18-month-long process, the department released the proposed policies late on a Friday afternoon and the Police Commission approved them less than two business days later. This short time span did not provide a meaningful opportunity for public debate or feedback on the concrete terms of the department’s proposed policy. Nor did it allow the commission to carefully review and evaluate its terms, much less to solicit independent evaluation from experts, before giving approval.