LAPD body cameras: Beck would allow officers to view video before filing reports

Officer Guillermo Espinoza pushes a button to turn his lapel camera on and off. The cameras don't roll for the entire shift, only when an officer presses record.
Officer Guillermo Espinoza pushes a button to turn his lapel camera on and off. The cameras don't roll for the entire shift, only when an officer presses record. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Raising the ire of civil libertarians, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck has proposed a body camera policy that would allow officers involved in shootings to view video of the incident before being interviewed by department investigators, according to a copy of the policy released Friday.

The proposed policy states officers shall review camera footage “as deemed necessary and appropriate" by the supervisor over the investigation into the shooting, prior to being interviewed by investigators. They would also be allowed to view the video before filing reports.

The proposal immediately drew criticism from civil liberties attorneys.

“It is simply not best investigative practices to allow an officer to view video before getting an initial interview from them,” said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring. “If they have not seen the video, they are less likely to shade the truth.”

The Oakland Police Department requires officers to provide an initial account of a shooting or other use of force prior to viewing body camera video.

The state legislature is considering a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) that would prohibit officers at all police departments from viewing video before writing their report.

Amid a national uproar over police use of force, Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised to equip 7,000 LAPD officers with body cameras. The first cameras are scheduled to roll out this Summer, with the hope they will improve the behavior of police and public alike.

The proposed policy would also allow officers to have a union representative with them when they review the video - and they can exclude the LAPD investigator looking into their actions during that process.

In the past, Beck has said it's valuable to have an officer review video because it improves the accuracy of their account. The proposed policy reflects that view.

“The accuracy of police reports, officer statements, and other official documentation is essential,” the policy states.

A press release sent to the media after KPCC first published this story quotes Beck as saying: "The Department's proposal takes into account the ideas and opinions of a wide array of community members and experts and is a thoughtful, carefully considered proposal that will strengthen the trust between the Department and the community we protect and serve."

The five member civilian police commission will consider the proposal at its meeting Tuesday.

In a letter to the commission, Beck said the department worked with various community groups, the police union and legal experts to develop the policy. He argued it would “promote accountability and continue strengthening the trust of the community we protect and serve.”

“The police commission should reject the policy if they want one that promotes accountability and transparency,” Bibring said. He said it undercuts the whole purpose behind body cameras.

But he also praised much of the rest of the policy, which lays out a broad set of circumstances under which officers must activate their camera. The list includes all vehicle stops, foot pursuits, searches, arrests, crowd control situations and in-custody transports. All “calls for service” is also listed.

“Its good there is not a lot of discretion afforded officers," Bibring said.

There are exceptions to when officers must turn on their camera.

Among them:

  • When a witness or victim refuses to provide a statement if recorded, and the encounter is non-confrontational;
  • Situations where recording would risk the safety of a confidential informant, citizen informant or undercover officer;
  • In patient-care areas of a hospital, rape treatment center, or other healthcare facility unless an enforcement action is taken in those areas.

The policy states officers are allowed to record inside homes and businesses they lawfully enter. It suggests officers inform people when they are being recorded, but does not require that.

But the policy is mostly silent on when the footage should be released to the public.

“Officers are not required to play back BWV (body worn video) recording to allow members of the public to review the video footage,” the proposed policy states.

This story has been updated.

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