A Bad Police Camera Guide

Good and bad news from the Los Angeles Police Department. First, the purchase of body cameras for officers to record their interactions with people is accelerating. And second, policy guiding the use of the cameras contains loopholes that have all the potential to harm its original purpose.

The policy approved a few days ago by the Police Commission is the result of meetings with civil rights groups, legal experts, a couple of community reunions, a poll and long negotiations with the officers’ union.

The result is a guide about everything from when and how to use the camera.

One of the problems is that the officials can use the video to make their report.

Furthermore, in case of a controversial incident like a shooting or the use of force, the official in question will be able to see the video before giving his statement. Another problem is the decision not to make those videos available to the public.

Chief Charlie Beck says that the cameras’ main objective is to help the officers “get to the truth of what occurs.” He’s right in part. The popular clamor for those cameras stems from the need to know the truth. The difference is that, in those cases, the obstruction comes from the same officers trying to conceal their improprieties. Now they will have another chance to adapt their reports and statements.

What this rule does is undermining the protection of public interests. The City of Oakland’s guide about the use of police cameras requires officers involved in cases of use of force to give an initial account of what happened before seeing the video. At the same time, a bill by assembly member Shirley Weber would prevent officers from seeing the video before filing their report.

The LAPD have its share of alleged abuses of force that remain unresolved and inappropriate actions costing taxpayers millions of dollars, as well as officers who resort to breaking their patrol cars’ antennas in order not to be supervised. Not to mention that the disciplinary system within the LAPD has given the impression of favoritism. This guide is no helping in terms of credibility.

The new guide, which will be revised in six months, seems today designed more to protect the officer than to bring transparency and public knowledge.