The Los Angeles Police Department will be equipping some of its officers with high-tech equipment next month: body cameras. Sixty officers will start wearing cameras under a pilot program intended to improve accountability and cut the number of complaints against officers.
Los Angeles Police Commission member Steve Soboroff, who spearheaded the effort with the support of Chief Charlie Beck and the police union, says audio and video recording of traffic stops, shootings and other encounters will save money in the long run and guard against officer misconduct. Perhaps most important to officers and their union, the cameras can help exonerate cops when they are falsely accused of wrongdoing.
Kern County law enforcement agencies aren't exactly getting in line to be next. In fact, neither the Kern County Sheriff's Office nor the Bakersfield Police Department even have dash cams, those patrol car-mounted cameras in widespread use by the California Highway Patrol. Dash cams are most valuable during traffic stops, chases and other incidents around patrol cars, including collisions. But, as both Sheriff Donny Youngblood and BPD Chief Greg Williamson point out, their departments interact with the public away from patrol cars much more often than the CHP officers do.
That's undoubtedly true of the LAPD as well, which is why body cameras make so much sense. They don't come cheap, though: The LAPD program will cost $1 million, to be financed by private donations.But body cameras might eventually pay for themselves -- and consequently be worthy of a budget appropriation -- if they reduce claims against the city and county by making officers more accountable for their actions in the field. They'll pay for themselves if they deprive plaintiffs of the chance to win settlements in cases built around conjecture when exonerating video evidence is unavailable.
Might dash cams or body cams prove too expensive? Sure, if they start producing evidence that not all police shootings around here are justified. Body cameras would've been able to tell quite a story about the "in-custody" death of the Bakersfield man who was taking a snooze on the lawn across from Kern Medical Center last May. Transparency can be inconvenient -- except when it shows officers displaying appropriate restraint, thereby improving public confidence in our law enforcement agencies and protecting public coffers from civil-trial shakedowns. In those cases, they're quite economical. Local leaders would be wise to keep a close eye on the LAPD's body-camera test project.