Please attribute the following statement to Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California:
The ACLU of Southern California is encouraged that the City of Los Angeles is talking about moving toward equipping its officers with body-worn video cameras. Body cameras won’t solve every problem in policing. But having video of police officers’ interactions with the public will help hold officers’ accountable for misconduct, quickly exonerate officers who are wrongly accused, and help the public understand the powers we give police and how they use them.Contact: Sandra Hernandez 213.977.5247, firstname.lastname@example.org
Deciding to adopt cameras is a significant step, but the Los Angeles Police Department has yet to do the most important work of setting policies that determine how they’re actually used. For body cameras to fulfill their promise as tools for accountability, they have to be turned on whenever an officer contacts a civilian for investigative purposes — officers can’t have discretion to “edit on the fly” by turning cameras off. And if cameras are going to be tools used to shed light on what really happened, police officers can’t be allowed to review videos of critical incidents before they give initial statements or interviews on what happened. Police don’t show video evidence to other witnesses before taking their statements, or show video to subjects of other investigations and doing so for police shootings or other incidents would taint the entire investigation. As the ACLU pointed out in a white paper issued last fall, body cameras raise serious privacy concerns for both officers and civilians that must be addressed through strong policies that limit when police can access video, when they can share it with other agencies or distribute it to the public, and how those limits will be audited to ensure compliance. But because the public has a strong interest in how police operate, the public must have a right to video high-profile in incidents such as officer-involved shootings, even if redactions must be made to protect privacy.
In another report, the ACLU of California has recommended that any new surveillance technology be adopted only after an open, public process that addresses impacts on privacy and civil liberties, invites community input on proposed policies and accountability measures, and ensures that new technology isn’t used until the technology and a use policy is approved after public debate. We hope that in adopting body cameras, LAPD will move forward with such a public process, and we will participate to ensure body cameras are used in a way that furthers accountability, protects privacy and allows meaningful public access.