The Los Angeles Police Department was awarded $1 million by the U.S. Department of Justice Monday for the purchase of body cameras, despite a complaint by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that the department’s policies on the use and release of the footage hinders transparency.
The LAPD was one of 73 agencies across the country to be awarded a total of $19.3 million in funding for the purchase of cameras. The city of Pasadena was awarded $250,000.
Los Angeles officials had asked the federal government for funding to purchase 700 cameras. The city ultimately wants to purchase 7,000 cameras to outfit all of its field officers. The department already has about 860 cameras purchased through private donations. Distribution of those cameras began this month at three LAPD stations.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the funding is “designed to assist local jurisdictions that are interested in exploring and expanding the use of body-worn cameras in order to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility.”
“The impact of body-worn cameras touches on a range of outcomes that build upon efforts to mend the fabric of trust, respect and common purpose that all communities need to survive,” Lynch said.
Earlier this month, however, Peter Bibring — a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Southern California chapter — sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to reject the LAPD’s funding request, saying the agency’s policies governing the handling of the camera footage run counter to the DOJ’s goal of transparency.
He said the department’s policy does not allow for public release of body camera footage and allows officers to view the footage prior to writing reports on use-of-force cases. He also said there are no protections to ensure the cameras are not used as “general surveillance tools.”
Bibring claimed the policy “provides no transparency and threatens to taint the integrity of investigations and undermine the public trust.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck have defended the city’s policies, saying they are designed to protect the integrity of criminal investigations and ensure convictions.
“When we have a bad apple in this department who does something that goes over the line that violates people’s rights and breaks the law, I don’t want anything to taint that (evidence) that should result in a conviction,” Beck said. “Vice versa, if we have somebody who is doing something criminal against one of our police officers or to another innocent person in this city, I want to make sure that an early release of video doesn’t taint their conviction.”
— Wire reports
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