Crime & Justice

New LAPD draft policy calls for release of body cam and other videos

LAPD Sgt. Fabian Ospina stands next to the docking stations where Central Division officers upload hours of video from body worn cameras daily.
LAPD Sgt. Fabian Ospina stands next to the docking stations where Central Division officers upload hours of video from body worn cameras daily.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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In a move once staunchly resisted by Chief Charlie Beck and the officers’ union, the Los Angeles Police Commission has introduced a draft policy that would allow the release of video of critical incidents such as shootings that were recorded on cops’ body-worn cameras.  Until now, the LAPD had a policy that prohibited the release of such video.

Under the proposed plan, the LAPD would also begin to release some video shot by cameras in patrol cars and on drones – and video collected from private security cameras and bystanders.

Last year, former Commission president, Matt Johnson, initiated a review of the policy as pressure grew to release body camera footage. That pressure in part resulted from an increasing number of bystander videos showing officers shooting people and the outcry those videos produced.

“Not releasing that video – ever – really hurt the trust with the community,” Johnson told KPCC.

The Policing Project at New York University’s School of Law conducted a public survey and found overwhelming support for the release of vide0.

67 percent of respondents to a questionnaire said video “definitely” should be released at some point. Another 21 percent said video should “probably” be released.

LAPD officers were surveyed too: 31 percent said “definitely” and 32 percent said “probably.” Chief Beck has said officers have gotten more accustomed to body cameras, and the discussion around them has evolved – and that he now supports the release of some video.

Beck previously has called all body camera video evidence – and police have the discretion under the California Public Records Act to keep evidence secret.

“This is potentially a significant step forward,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. 

“We give no government official more power than a police officer, who is allowed to use deadly force,” Bibring said. “It’s crucial the public understands how that power is used.”

Under the draft policy, video from officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths, and other “critical incidents” would become public 45 days after they occur.

Johnson said the panel had many competing interests to balance. The police union has argued video should never be released to the public, ever.  Some police watchdogs argued all video should be released immediately.

The videos would not be released on their own, according to LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein. The department will offer other evidence of what happened.

“It will be a story. There will be context,” he said. “It won’t be telling people to just go to the website and here’s the video.”

Releasing video will do little to help the public understand police shootings, said Hamid Khan of the police watchdog group “Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.”

“You have a system that allows police officers to engage in violence with impunity,” he said.  “How many videos do people have to see?”

The panel is not considering releasing all video because it would be “overwhelming” to the department’s resources,” Johnson said. “This policy makes sense for the city, for the department and really serves the interest of being transparent.”

The police commission, which oversees the department, and the chief could withhold videos that could hurt an investigation. Conversely, they could release video from other incidents if they deem it in the “public interest.”

The commission will take a final vote on the next month – following a two-week public comment period. The public can see the draft at www.lapd.online. Comments may be sent to videoreleaseinput@lapd.online.