Please attribute the following statement to Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California:
The Los Angeles Police Department’s policy released today for body worn video cameras gets some things right, by clearly requiring officers record most interactions with the public, providing notice to the public that they are videotaping when possible, and making sure individual officers do not have discretion to publicly release video that could be sensitive or embarrassing. Those policies are important, but they are also not very controversial.
But LAPD’s proposed policy suffers from serious flaws that undercut the very purpose of body cameras: to promote transparency and accountability. First, the policy does nothing to alter Chief Charlie Beck’s stated position that the department will not release body camera footage to the public, even in critical incidents like shootings. The power we give to police officers to use force, even to take human life, is extraordinary – and the public deserves to understand how that power is used, not to be told ‘just trust us,’ whether the ‘us’ is the police department or its civilian oversight. Second, and as important, the policy allows officers involved in critical incidents like shootings to view body-worn video footage from their and other officers’ cameras before making an initial statement. That at best taints officers’ firsthand recollection of the incident with the perception viewed on the video, and at worst allows officers who are willing to lie to cover up misconduct an opportunity to provide an account that’s consistent with video evidence.
The ACLU of Southern California has expressed optimism that body-worn cameras, if implemented properly, could build trust between police and the public. But the proposed policy will likely do more harm than good, fueling suspicion that cameras are being used solely to benefit officers. Accordingly, the ACLU SoCal calls on the Police Commission to reject this misguided proposed policy, and instead adopt practices that would give the public confidence that cameras will reveal misconduct. Otherwise we believe that LAPD ought to stop using body cameras altogether rather than be allowed to use them on these troubling terms.
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