Video footage from body cameras worn by Los Angeles police officers is typically not released to the public, but that may change depending on input received by the Los Angeles Police Commission over the next few months through community meetings, focus groups and an internet survey.
Police Commissioner Matt Johnson said during a news conference Thursday that Los Angeles is the “first major city” to have all of its police officers working in the field wearing body cameras, but under the current policy, the LAPD only releases video footage if there is a “court order or significant public safety issue.”
Johnson said the commission is looking to “re-evaluate that policy as it relates to officer involved shootings and other critical incidents.”
“This is probably the most significant issue around the use of body cameras and one that many jurisdictions are grappling with,” he said. “It’s our mission to get this policy right, and in doing so we are reaching to the public to get as much public input on this as much as possible.”
The release of video footage could prove a contentious issue, with such recordings bringing greater scrutiny of police shootings in recent years, and sparking criticism of police conduct around the country.
The issue of officers wearing body cameras has been championed as a way to increase transparency in police agencies, with former President Barack Obama setting up a grant program to fund city efforts to equip officers with the devices.
The Los Angeles Police Department was among cities that received a grant, as well as city money, and is now in the process of outfitting and training all of its patrolling officers with the cameras.
There have also been some concerns raised about the release of body cameras around whether they violate the privacy of victims, and if viewing the footage could influence witness testimony.
“These videos are of people generally on the worst day of their lives, and sometimes on the last day of their lives, and to put those out without a very thoughtful, reasoned policy would not do a service to the public, especially if we’re doing it just to satisfy curiosity,” said Chief Charlie Beck, who joined Johnson to announce the effort to gather public input.
Beck said input is not only being sought from the public, but also from “rank-and-file police officers, command staff, the district attorney, victims rights groups and many, many other folks.”
“This is a balancing act,” he noted, in which “probably nobody will get exactly what it is they think should be the perfect policy.”
Over the next few weeks, the Police Commission will hold a series of four community meetings, each in one of the Los Angeles Police Department’s bureaus. A meeting in the San Fernando Valley has been scheduled for April 20, with the location still to be determined.
The public can also give input by filling out an online questionnaire at lapdvideopolicy.org.
The website includes a fact sheet, a video and examples of arguments that both support or oppose the release of body camera footage.
The Police Commission is working with the Police Project at New York University’s law school to conduct the public input process, with help from the UCLA and UCI law schools.
NYU professor Barry Friedman, who is leading the community input program, said there are many factors to be considered. “There is an eagerness to reach out deeply into the community on this very complicated issue,” Friedman said.
The input will be gathered until May 7, and put into a report to be reviewed by the Police Commission. Johnson said the commission should be able to begin discussing the policy in June, and have a “draft policy” ready within 60 days. That draft will also be submitted to the public for additional input, he said.