The shooting death of 18-year-old
The shooting precipitated days of rioting, protester arrests and investigations by a grand jury and the
Conflicting accounts from witnesses and police have led many to wonder whether body-worn cameras -- also known as lapel cameras or on-officer video cameras -- might have offered a better picture of what happened.
"Use of force is down 60 percent," De Anda said, adding that complaints against officers have dropped by 87.5 percent.
The program came from a research project by
"It's been a very successful program," De Anda said.
The program began in 2011, when 40 officers were required to mount cameras on their uniforms or on headsets. During that year, the department logged 61 use-of-force incidents by officers in
The city had 24 complaints against officers, including use of force or excessive force, in 2011, before cameras were used. In 2012 that number plummeted to three. In 2013, the city had four such complaints.
In 2013, the city increased the number of officers wearing cameras from 40 to about 70.
Light was shed on a
"That video we used for prosecuting the juvenile," De Anda said. "Had we not had the body-worn cameras, it would have been the officer's word against the juvenile's word."
The high cost of cameras has deterred some Southland agencies from jumping on the body-camera bandwagon, though others say the upfront expense is made up in reduced legal fees and fewer complaints.
"Cost is always going to be a concern," said
The city of
Despite the obvious benefits, there are also concerns.
"The whole issue of body cameras is a complicated issue that affects, you know, how the public sees the police and how the police sees the public," said
His group was tasked with creating best practices for body cameras, at the request of the
Best practices would help protect both witnesses and police, clarify when officers use cameras, whether they tell the public they're recording them, how long data is stored, and whether policies such as
"There may be some citizens that don't want to be recorded. They don't want it to be known that they talked to the police about something, so those are some of the difficult questions that we faced," Wexler said. "Talking to someone about something sensitive such as sexual assault, you ought to give people the opportunity of whether or not they want to be recorded. Once you record someone, that is a public record. That means whether it's the media or whoever, they have a right to what is being recorded."
"We've met with, talked to, consulted with other agencies that have gone before us. We didn't want to repeat mistakes," LeBaron said. "One of the common themes that you hear is make sure when you deploy these cameras, make sure you deploy them with policies."
Some law enforcement agencies started by recording everything, LeBaron said, racking up insurmountable storage fees. Other police departments left recordings up to the discretion of the officer. Later the agencies retracted original policies.
"The policies might have been too restrictive and too vague," LeBaron said, underscoring the need to send clear and consistent messages to officers about how and when to the devices. "We want to give the officer and the community the opportunity to make sure the truth is documented properly."
Involving the community and its input is also another key factor in developing good practices, experts say.
"You're not going to see us activate (the cameras) on a sexual assault case or burglary," De Anda said. "We don't want to go into a residential burglary investigation where the family's distraught because they've just been burglarized. There's no need to video tape that."
In other states, officers with histories of complaints have asked to wear the cameras, to show they have more contact with the public and as a result generate more complaints, according to the
Other issues up for debate are how long to keep the recordings.
The one aspect of using body-worn cameras that is not being debated is the obvious changes in behavior by officers and suspects when the cameras are rolling.
"Their behavior changes. Their persona changes," De Anda said about officers and suspects on better behavior. Something few people, if any, argue is a bad thing.
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