The main purpose of video cameras worn by police is to provide transparency at a time when the credibility of police actions is at its lowest level in more than two decades. The cameras should record abuse by law enforcement officers as well as individuals who try to take advantage of incidents toclaim abuse that never occurred. It all depends on the rules governing the use of the videos, and that is the problem.
Efforts in Sacramento to establish a statewide rule, like the one in effect in Oakland, whichprohibits officers involved in violent cases from seeing the video before making an initial statement on the incident or writing their report, were defeated by pressure from police departments and unions. They want each police department to establish its own rules for handling the videos, meaning that the level of transparency is left to the discretion of the local police.
That is disturbing now that cameras are being distributed in the Los Angeles Police Department. The rule set by Chief Charlie Beck that considers the need to protect the privacy of victims of domestic violence, for example, is very good, but it also allows officers involved in disputes to review the video before filing their report.
The worst part is that both Beck and Mayor Garcetti are mixing up these very different issues—an individual’s need for privacy and the oversight of police actions—to justify a policy of not releasing the videos to the public. In practice, that basically leaves the decision to the discretion of Chief Beck and the LAPD.
That is inadequate. Specifically, actions within the LAPD, from the breaking of antennas on patrol cars by police to avoid being monitored to the impression of favoritism in the disciplinary system and the millions of dollarsthat lawsuits for police abuse cost taxpayers, are a problem. Leaving the transparency of the videos in the hands of the LAPD does not inspire trust.