a police body camera and camera mounted sunglasses
Photo courtesy TASER International.

A majority of members of the general public who responded to a survey released Tuesday said video shot by Los Angeles police officers during critical incidents should be made publicly available within a short period of time.

The survey was conducted by the Policing Project at New York University School of Law for the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, which asked the nonprofit organization to help it engage the public as the panel looks to craft a policy on releasing videos.

The Policing Project said critical incidents could include when an officer fires his or her gun or a person dies in police custody.

The City Council enacted a $59 million plan in June 2016 to equip more than 7,000 patrol officers with body cameras by the end of this year. The move sparked a debate on when video shot during critical incidents should be publicly released.

The use of body cameras has become a prominent issue as the focus on police shootings has grown nationally, and LAPD officials have said they hope the cameras will help build more public trust in the department.

But while it is seeking to build trust, the department has been widely criticized for not releasing the videos publicly except in response to a court order.

Commission Vice President Matt Johnson — whose two-year term as president just ended — said the survey results would be taken into consideration as he and Commissioner Shane Murphy Goldsmith work to craft a recommended policy.

Johnson predicted the draft policy would be ready to be publicly released in three weeks before the full Police Commission votes on it. None of the commissioners at the meeting offered comments on the survey results or indicated any particular beliefs they had on a video policy.

Of the survey’s 3,199 respondents, 532 were law enforcement officers. And while a majority of both groups favored the eventual public release of critical videos, a majority of law enforcement officers (64 percent) favored waiting until the district attorney had ruled on a case, and 11 percent preferred waiting until the Police Commission had decided about pressing any charges.

The Police Commission generally takes around a year to rule on an officer’s actions during a critical incident, and the D.A. can take up to two years to decide to press charges against an officer.

Members of the general public preferred a policy where critical incident video would be released automatically after a certain amount of time, with 49 percent saying it should occur after 30 days, 16 percent saying it should be after 60 days, and 11 percent favoring release after 120 days.

If there were to be an exception to the automatic release of video footage, no one public official was trusted strongly by the public to decide the issue on a case-by-case basis.

Fifty percent of the general public said they trusted the D.A. a “great deal” or “fair” amount to decide, while 43 percent said they would trust the Police Commission and 39 percent and 35 percent, respectively, would trust the mayor and the police chief. No official received more than 16 percent of a “great deal” of trust.

Law enforcement officers were most trusting of the D.A. (72 percent), compared to 55 percent for the police chief, 23 percent for the Police Commission and 18 percent for the mayor.

–City News Service

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