Los Angeles Could Be Largest City To Outfit Its Police Officers With Lapel Cameras (Thanks To Hollywood)

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LAPD (Photo by Ernesto A. via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
Wealthy Hollywood donors are teaming up with the LAPD in a plan to outfit police officers with cameras to tape what happens on the job. That means Los Angeles could soon be the largest police force in the nation to outfit all its officers with a lapel cameras.

Just a week into his tenure as Police Commission president Steve Soboroff announced that he has privately raised half of the $1 million the department needs to equip 1,500 officers with small lapel cameras, according to the Associated Press. That money is coming from Hollywood elites. Soboroff has a promise of $250,000 from entertainment executive Casey Wasserman as well as an undisclosed sum from DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Soboroff's goal is to outfit LAPD officers within a year, though cameras will likely be out in the field much sooner.

The LAPD top brass supports the plan. Ever since the 1991 beating of Rodney King, it's been the city's goal to outfit every patrol car with a camera. But so far only 300 of 1,200 cars are outfitted with video recorders. Chief Charlie Beck said his department still wants to outfit every car with a camera and plans to unveil a proposal to outfit 400-500 more cars with cameras, the AP reports. He doesn't plan to put those efforts on hold, but he points out lapel cameras might be cheaper and supports Soboroff's plan. The police union haven't taken a stand on lapel cameras, but they have supported in-car cameras in the past, the AP says.

Supporters of lapel cameras say that both civilians and police officers tend to behave better when they know that they're on camera. The police department of Rialto made headlines when a study found that use-of-force complaints filed against police officers plummeted during the first year that its force was outfitted with cameras. The New York Times wrote:

In the first year after the cameras were introduced here in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.

The department is also investigating whether the cameras helped lead to more convictions by capturing additional evidence.

However, the cameras are expensive and can cost as much as $900. One of the companies that has been marketing the cameras to police departments is Taser International Inc, according to the New York Times. City Councilman Mitchell Englander submitted a motion the LAPD to start working with Taser to start field-testing 25 cameras to figure out the best style for the force, AP says.

So far the police departments that have rolled out lapel cameras are in smaller cities, like Albuquerque, Fort Worth and Oakland.

The idea of rolling out cameras has been controversial in New York. The federal judge who ruled that the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional ordered certain precincts to wear lapel cameras on a trial basis. Then-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg bristled at the idea of outfitting the city's force with cameras, saying: "We can't have your cameraman follow you around and film things without people questioning whether they deliberately chose an angle…It would be a nightmare." The local police union called the cameras an "an encumbrance."

What about privacy and the specter of Big Brother? So far the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California hasn't received any complaints about the cameras from Rialto, and the organization actually supports the cameras. Peter Bibring, a senior lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of Southern California, told the New York Times, "Cameras hold real promise for making it easier to resolve complaints against police."

He said there do need to be certain privacy guidelines: he said department's shouldn't store the video for prolonged periods or make the searches of private homes public. (This being Southern California, we're assuming this will become a problem when a celebrity's home gets searched.)

The plan to outfit the LAPD with cameras is moving swiftly. City Councilman Mitchell Englander plans to start testing in a couple weeks, and he requested that the LAPD report back to the city's Public Safety Committee in 90 days, according to the Associated Press. The plan is to have at least 500 cameras out in the field by then.