By Jason KUROSU
With the public calling for increased accountability by law enforcement, the police, along with the federal government, have come closer to embracing the widespread use of body worn cameras as a means for greater accuracy in the reporting of crimes and evidence documentation.
Police shootings involving unarmed civilians, such as the highly publicized shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have sparked a public outcry for reform efforts, one of which would be cameras outfitted for police uniforms.
In December, President Obama proposed a plan to implement body camera use for police officers nationwide, calling for a $263 million, three-year spending package that would pay for training and other resources in police departments across the country, including a task force on 21st century policing headed by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. Of those funds, $75 million would be used specifically to purchase body worn cameras.
Studies about police body worn cameras have yielded positive reactions from both police officers and civilians. According to a study conducted by the University of Cambridge-Institute of Technology, a year of wearing body cameras by Rialto Police Officers in 2012 yielded a 60% reduction in officer use of force incidents and an 88% reduction in citizen complaints.
Locally, the Los Angeles Police Dept. has begun outfitting its officers with body worn cameras, utilizing $1 million in private donations to purchase 7,000 cameras. The wireless Taser brand body cameras cost $500 apiece and were used by LAPD officers during a 90-day testing period.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. (LASD) is currently conducting a six-month pilot program with body worn cameras. Beginning in September 2014, the sheriff’s department has issued 96 cameras to officers at four patrol stations: Lancaster Station, Temple Station, Century Station and Carson Station. Officers using the cameras also received training on uploading and storage of video files.
A press release from the sheriff’s department states, “The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. has long recognized the advancement in body worn camera technology as a useful and practical tool for enhancing public trust and increased transparency. In addition, it is also a valuable way to obtain better video and audio evidence while providing a law enforcement perspective.”
“The Body Worn Camera system is the next step in the modern evolution of law enforcement technology,” said Project Director Chief Bob Denham in the release. “Just as radios and computers have become commonplace in law enforcement, these camera systems will be utilized by law enforcement as a matter of routine. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. is systematically researching and testing these systems as well as developing policies and a process to manage the thousands of hours of video data that will be collected each year that will be needed in future law enforcement efforts.”
According to LASD Public Information Officer Nicole Nishida, use of the cameras will be evaluated at the end of the six-month period, at which time potential implementation of body cameras across the department will be assessed.
In Glendale, police officers are currently using digital belt recorders for capturing audio, as well as two-camera, video and audio recording systems in their patrol cars. While these measures have been in place for the last year and a half, body cameras could be on the way in the next two years.
Glendale Police Chief Robert Castro said that there have been ongoing discussions between the police department and the Glendale City Council regarding body cameras, including talks with vendors about potentially purchasing cameras. According to Castro, a number of areas have to be considered first, including proper storage of video recordings and the cost of cameras and video storage.
“We’re watching to see how this unfolds. We’re very curious,” said Castro. “We’ll be in a better position to pursue this technology in the next two years.”
Castro said that cost would be a factor even if President Obama’s proposed spending plan is approved.
“That money is only going to buy a small amount of cameras, which are going to go first and foremost to areas with high, violent crime rates,” said Castro, who said that cameras would be needed for 350 officers in Glendale.
Overall, Castro did not think Glendale would be one of those areas first considered for cameras, as he believed that there was “a lot of trust” between the citizenry of Glendale and its police force.
“Based on interactions with various community groups, homeowners’ associations, people are generally very happy with Glendale’s policing,” said Castro.