Crime & Justice

Police Commission launches review of LAPD video release policy

File: LAPD Officers William Allen, left, and Guillermo Espinoza get into their patrol car after doing a foot patrol in Skid Row.
File: LAPD Officers William Allen, left, and Guillermo Espinoza get into their patrol car after doing a foot patrol in Skid Row.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The civilian body that oversees the LAPD Thursday began a review of the department’s policy that prohibits the release of almost all video from cameras worn by officers and mounted inside patrol cars – including video of officer involved shootings.

As community meetings get underway to gather public input, Los Angeles Police Commission President Matt Johnson said he favors a more relaxed policy.

"Frankly there have been many situations in controversial shootings where I felt like if the public could only see this, this would not be controversial," Police Commission President Matt Johnson told KPCC.

He pointed to the shooting of a man on L.A.'s Skid Row two years ago that touched off protests. Video from an officer’s body camera showed the man grabbing another officer’s gun, Johnson said, but the public never saw it.

The commission reviews all video that has been recorded when it considers whether an officer acted within department policy.

Any change in policy should also allow for the release of at least some videos that raise questions about officers’ conduct, Johnson said.

"We can’t pick and choose and only show the ones that are good to the department," he said. "We should have a policy that is agnostic."

Johnson said he is reserving judgment on exactly which videos should be released - and when - until after the series of four public meetings. The commission has hired researchers from the Policing Project, a non-profit based at the New York University School of Law. They are conducting the public meetings and focus groups with rank and file cops.

In rare instances, the department has released video. It released security camera video of a man running with a gun before police fatally shot him in South LA. The review by the police commission will include a look at when to release video obtained from security cameras as evidence.

In the past, the union that represents LAPD officers has opposed the release of any video, citing the privacy of officers and the integrity of investigations.

Chief Charlie Beck also has opposed releasing video, saying it could jeopardize investigations and violate the privacy of crime victims and witnesses. Now, he’s more open to releasing video to the public, he said.

"I am still reluctant to release all video all the time. I don’t think that’s in anybody’s best interest," Beck said. "But I think in high profile incidents, we have to recognize that the intense crush of public interest needs an outlet."

Both Beck and Johnson said they remain committed to keeping certain sensitive video out of the public view, such as interviews with victims of domestic violence.

By the end of the year, the LAPD plans to equip 7,000 officers with body cameras. 

People interested in commenting on the video policy can leave comments online.

They can also attend one of three remaining public hearings: