Crime & Justice

After spike in shootings, Long Beach police will test body cameras

A body camera that the LAPD began testing with patrol officers assigned to downtown Los Angeles.
A body camera that the LAPD began testing with patrol officers assigned to downtown Los Angeles.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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After a spike in the number of police shootings raised alarms, the Long Beach Police Department announced plans Wednesday for a pilot program testing the use of body-worn cameras on patrol officers.

Long Beach police shootings jumped in 2013. There were a total of 22 officer-involved shootings. Fifteen of them involved a suspect; police killed six people and wounded five others that year. Shootings dropped to 10 in 2014.

Cmdr. Paul LeBaron heads a Long Beach police committee that began researching body cameras after the spike in shootings, at the request of then-Police Chief Jim McDonnell and his deputy chiefs.

“They certainly wanted to increase officer accountability and make sure that we were doing things as well as we possibly could,” LeBaron said.

The police department believes body cameras will reduce the number of police shootings, complaints against officers and injuries. LeBaron said body cameras will remind officers to be professional and keep people from pushing the limits.

"Right there is a major de-escalation," he said. "If those two things are in play, a lot of the uses-of-force that we'll typically see, they're just not going to happen and that would include officer-involved shootings."

Police shootings dropped to 10 last year, including animal shootings and accidental firearm discharges. Six of the shootings involved a suspect; police killed three people and wounded one person in 2014.

There were 236 complaints filed in 2013 against Long Beach police officers and civilian employees. In 2014 there were 215 complaints.

LeBaron said police hope to team with Cal-State Long Beach to collect data from the body camera pilot project and determine effectiveness.

The Rialto Police Department, which has approximately 115 sworn officers, found similar results when it tested body cameras in 2012 and 2013. Complaints against officers fell by 88 percent and use-of-force incidents dropped by nearly 60 percent, according to a Cambridge University study done with Rialto Police Chief Tony Fararr.

The U.S. Department of Justice research arm, the National Institute of Justice, gave $1 million to Los Angeles to study body cameras at the L.A. Police Department, which plans to roll out the small recording devices sometime this month.

The Long Beach Police Department hasn’t yet chosen a type of body camera to use in the pilot project. There’s no start date for the body camera pilot project and the department is still figuring out how many officers will participate. LeBaron said LBPD will identify a group of patrol officers that have the most calls for services and interactions with the public to test the body cameras.

In the meantime, the police department is developing policy for when officers should turn on and off the body cameras.

LeBaron said there’s a mixed feeling among Long Beach police officers about the inevitable age of police body cameras.

“It’s really just the fear of the unknown,” he said. “It’s fully acknowledged by everybody that this is going to facilitate change in our culture and the way we do things.”

LeBaron said body cameras will change how officers act and decide to handle situations but he said it should change people’s behavior, too.