For starters, the LAPD plans to roll out more than 800 of the devices next week as part of a larger plan to equip almost the entire force. The department will eventually deploy 7,000 body cameras.
The cameras have the support of police chiefs and civil libertarians alike. They can increase transparency and provide a more objective view of the actions of officers and suspects.
But they are also raising a lot of thorny questions, starting with ‘when does the public have a right to see the images they capture?
A new poll finds most California voters – 70 percent – think the public should always have that right in situations where an officer uses force or is accused of misconduct. Moreover, nearly 80 percent say they public should have access to records in misconduct investigations, including any discipline that was imposed.
The poll was commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union. It shows there is a strong public appetite for greater disclosure of police records of all kinds when it comes to officer shootings and misconduct cases.
The LAPD insists it’s not required to produce investigative records for public view, including images captured on body cameras. It declined to release footage from an officer’s camera following the deadly and highly controversial shooting of a homeless man on skid row earlier this year.
California has some of the toughest laws in the country protecting police records. With body cameras becoming more ubiquitous, a number of other states are moving to toughen laws.
That’s alarming to the ACLU and others who insist that body cameras can only increase transparency and help restore trust in police agencies if the footage is released.