Photo courtesy TASER International.
A police body camera system. Photo courtesy TASER International.

Patrol officers at the Mission Division in the San Fernando Valley will begin receiving body cameras Monday as part of a roll out of 860 such cameras at three Los Angeles Police Department divisions over the next month.

Mission Division police officers were the first to receive the cameras. Officers at the Newton Division will receive them Sept. 15 and the Central traffic and specialized divisions on Sept. 28.

“I really think that this piece of technology is going to be really beneficial not just to Mission area, but I think to the community that we serve, as well as the department overall,” LAPD Capt. Todd Chamberlain said.

“I think the officers here at Mission, I think they realize that they’re making history today, to be honest with you, by putting these cameras on,” he said.

The Taser body cameras are designed to be worn on the chest and were purchased using $1.5 million in private donations raised by the Los Angeles Police Foundation.

The city is also considering purchasing another 7,000 cameras to outfit the entire police department at a cost of about $10 million. Funding was included in this year’s city budget but has not been appropriated, with city officials still waiting on federal grants that they hope will pay for half of the costs.

The Mission station serves the Arleta, Panorama City, Sylmar, North Hills and Mission Hills areas, the Newton division covers the Fashion District, South Park and Pueblo Del Rio, and the Central Division serves much of downtown Los Angeles.

Some critics, however, said the cameras will not provide the “transparency” they are looking for because the footage is not likely to be available to the general public. They also contend current policy unfairly gives police officers the advantage of viewing the video before giving testimony about alleged excessive force.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff has said the panel plans to re-visit the policies governing the use of the cameras and the footage.

Under the policy adopted by the commission in April, officers involved in use-of-force incidents, such as police shootings, would not be allowed to view footage from the body camera unless the force investigator gives permission, but officers must view the video before being interviewed by investigators.

The policy also call for body cameras to be activated before an investigation or enforcement action begins, such as vehicle or pedestrian stops, car and foot chases, searches, arrests, use-of-force, witness and victim interviews, and crowd control.

If an officer is unable to activate the camera in time, or if the camera fails to record, the officer must note the reasons and circumstances in a daily log.

Under the rules, officers will be allowed to stop recording if the witnesses or victims being interviewed say they will not make a statement on camera, and as long as the encounter is not confrontational.

Officers can decide not to record if they feel it would interfere with an investigation — such as in a rape, incest or sexual assault cases — or due to a victim’s or witness’ age, emotional or physical state or other sensitive factors.

They can also deactivate the camera if they feel the life of an undercover officer or informant is in danger, and if they are in a health-care area with patients or at a rape treatment center.

—City News Service

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