LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Department was awarded $1 million by the U.S. Department of Justice Sept. 21 for the purchase of body cameras, despite a complaint by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that the department’s policies on the use and release of the footage hinders transparency.
The LAPD was one of 73 agencies across the country to be awarded a total of $19.3 million in funding for the purchase of cameras. The city of Pasadena was awarded $250,000.
Los Angeles officials had asked the federal government for funding to purchase 700 cameras. The city ultimately wants to purchase 7,000 cameras to outfit all of its field officers. The department already has about 860 cameras purchased through private donations. Distribution of those cameras began this month at three LAPD stations.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the funding is “designed to assist local jurisdictions that are interested in exploring and expanding the use of body-worn cameras in order to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility.”
“The impact of body-worn cameras touches on a range of outcomes that build upon efforts to mend the fabric of trust, respect and common purpose that all communities need to survive,” Lynch said.
Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said he was “extremely disappointed” that the Department of Justice granted funding to the LAPD.
“The Justice Department announced funding for body camera programs as a means to help increase transparency and build public trust, yet it has chosen to fund a department with body camera policies that are at odds with those goals and instead maintain secrecy and sow distrust,” Villagra said.
“LAPD’s body camera program will provide no transparency since the department has made clear it will not release videos of critical incidents like shootings, even where victims or families request it. It will undermine accountability by allowing officers to review video of an incident before speaking to investigators.
“And with the department continuing to ask the public to rely on its investigations while refusing to disclose body camera footage that would help show whether that reliance is justified, the program will do little to build public trust.
“The ACLU SoCal has supported body cameras, so long as police departments adopt strong policies that ensure they are used to promote accountability and transparency. Regrettably, the Justice Department appears more interested in creating the appearance that they are addressing the concern about policing than in ensuring departments adopt body camera programs that might making a meaningful difference to their communities.”
Earlier this month, Peter Bibring — a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Southern California chapter — sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to reject the LAPD’s funding request, saying the agency’s policies governing the handling of the camera footage run counter to the department’s goal of transparency.
Bibring claimed the policy “provides no transparency and threatens to taint the integrity of investigations and undermine the public trust.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck have defended the city’s policies, saying they are designed to protect the integrity of criminal investigations and ensure convictions.
When we have a bad apple in this department who does something that goes over the line that violates people’s rights and breaks the law, I don’t want anything to taint that [evidence] that should result in a conviction,” Beck said. “Vice versa, if we have somebody who is doing something criminal against one of our police officers or to another innocent person in this city, I want to make sure that an early release of video doesn’t taint their conviction.”