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LAPD's Controversial New Policy For Body Cameras

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The L.A. Police Commission voted last night to approve a set of rules for LAPD officers to follow when equipped with body cams, but those rules did not come without controversy.

The L.A. Police Commission voted 3-1 last night to approve a set of guidelines for the 800 or so officers that the LAPD plans to soon outfit with body cameras, KTLA reports. While some were easily agreed upon, two policy points have stirred up controversy. One is allowing officers involved in a shooting or use of force incident to review body cam footage prior to making a statement about what happened, and the other is that the LAPD will not be releasing body cam footage to the public. LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck said there may occasionally be exceptions to both policies.

The ACLU has taken issue with these two points, especially in cases where an officer uses force on or shoots a civilian. "The power we give to police officers to use force, even to take human life, is extraordinary—and the public deserves to understand how that power is used, not to be told ‘just trust us,’ whether the ‘us’ is the police department or its civilian oversight," Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement.

The ACLU has also argued that any officer who is involved in a use of force incident should not be able to review the video before making statements to investigators about what happened. "That at best taints officers’ firsthand recollection of the incident with the perception viewed on the video, and at worst allows officers who are willing to lie to cover up misconduct an opportunity to provide an account that’s consistent with video evidence," Villagra said.

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Beck has said that the department has a general policy of not releasing any video until an investigation is complete, and that this policy should remain the same with the footage from the body cams. He said that officers will not be able to alter a video and that the footage will "show what it shows."

"If [officers] commit misconduct or if they have an out of policy use of force, the video will show that," Beck said.

Other approved guidelines deal with when body cams should be on and when they may be turned off. Officers must activate the cameras during most interactions with the public, including traffic stops, service calls, arrests, pursuits and transporting people who are in custody. Body cams may be turned off if a witness or victim would prefer the cameras be off, if they are investigating a sensitive sexual assault case or if it's a situation that could compromise a confidential informant or an undercover officer.

Beck and L.A. Police Commission President Steve Soboroff both stated that there may be adjustments to the policy over time, if needed. There are plans for 7,000 officers to eventually be fitted with body cameras over the next few years, ABC reports.