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File photo: Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announces the 2009 crime statistics for Los Angeles on January 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
The Los Angeles Police Department plans to install cameras in 300 squad cars in South L.A. Police leaders say the long-awaited move will provide evidence of bad behavior by suspects and police officers engaged in wrongdoing.
Sitting inside an LAPD patrol car equipped with a digital video camera, Officer Alex Delieuze recalls how most cops – and the powerful labor union that represents them – once opposed the cameras.
"I think the main concern is that you’re on video and your peers are going to look at you and judge you," he said.
The eight-year-veteran officer said he and his colleagues worried about supervisors scrutinizing their tactics – not about getting caught engaging in misconduct, as some people said.
"We all know, we’re not going to be planting anything on people – that’s like, in the movies."
Its a different story now, Delieuze said. Officers involved in a pilot project love the cameras because it helps them do their job. He cites a recent case where officers knew they saw a suspect throw a gun outside a car.
"They just couldn’t find it. And they’re looking everywhere. If they would have gone back in the car, looked at the video, ya see it’s like 10 feet in front of the car."
Police Commission President John Mack said in-car videos have been a "a very top priority” for the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD.
He noted that the federal judge who monitored reforms at the department wanted cameras in its police cars, particularly to help weed out any racial profiling.
“Biased policing continues to be one of the key challenges that we face and we believe that these cameras can represent a very important tool in gathering the facts," Mack said.
The department’s spending $5.5 million to place cameras in 300 South L.A. police cars by the end of the summer. Police Chief Charlie Beck said the city allocated the money before the economic crisis.
Beck hopes to convince the City Council to spend another $20 million next year to put cameras in all 1,600 LAPD cars, now that digital technology allows the department to more easily store and retrieve thousands of hours of video.
Beck eventually wants the ability to watch the actions of his officers live.
“One of the holy grails that we are trying to here is being able to watch streaming video from the dash-cams of police cars, ya know, in my bedroom or wherever I need to see it."
The cameras zoom and pan, and they are activated whenever officers turn on their flashing lights and sirens. Beck said officers are supposed to activate them during pedestrian and vehicle stops too. And video is wirelessly downloaded automatically when patrol cars return to their station.
"So there is no tape – it actually is tamperproof," the chief said.
Beck said he chose to place the cameras in South Los Angeles first, because that’s where officers are busiest – and where people tend to trust them least.