Starting this year, Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officers will join the ranks of thousands of other officers across the country that will suit up with body cameras when they head into the field after a one-year pilot program received unanimous support from the city council last night.
Camera deployment will begin in March on the city’s west side, where LBPD Chief Robert Luna said instances that the police department is hoping to decrease—citizen complaints against the LBPD, police use of force and officer injuries—are historically high. He said that the department’s research showed those complaints shrunk when officers wore cameras by between 60-80 percent. However, he cautioned that while cameras may become a useful tool, they won’t solve all the issues involving officers’ interactions with residents.
“The body-worn camera is a tool, it’s not the silver bullet,” Luna said. “One of the things that we have learned throughout our research is body-worn cameras are a tool to help us enhance community trust and underscore law enforcement legitimacy and accountability by using video to better document police interactions with our community.”
However, Luna did warn that the full cost of the pilot program could not be known until it’s run its course, as the department may need to hire additional personnel to deal with data infrastructure and processing needs. The pilot program will cost approximately $210,000 annually with two separate one-year renewal options, but Luna said full implementation of the body camera program would cost more.
The approval of the pilot program awards a contract to Texas-based Dell Marketing LP, to outfit 40-50 officers servicing the West Division with body cameras as well as provide the LBPD with the necessary data storage infrastructure, system support and officer training to execute it. The original proposal that was pulled from the council’s agenda in November called for the program to outfit 100 officers with body cameras. The reason for the reduction in scope of the pilot program was not immediately clear.
Luna said the officers would be randomly assigned the cameras to wear for the entire length of the pilot program and the beginning metrics would be compared with those at the end of the 12-month period as part of its report that will be delivered to the council where a vote to continue or abandon the program would likely take place. The officers wearing the cameras will be working afternoon shifts.
The topic of when a video could be shared and what kinds of content could potentially be shielded from public view was broached by members of the council, with Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo asking what kinds of rights victims would have under the policy the department had crafted. The policy would disallow videos to be released if they’re part of an ongoing criminal investigation or contained sensitive material like that found in emergency rooms and other circumstances Luna said.
“If we’re dealing with situations such as crimes involving children, sexual assaults and things of that nature, those are situations and videos that are very sensitive, we will not be releasing those,” Luna said. “The policy is pretty strict about those kids of situations.”
Researchers from Cal State Long Beach criminal justice department are expected to help analyze data collected through the pilot program, as part of a larger study to help assess the effectiveness of the cameras. The CSULB researchers and The Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank assisting with the study, will also conduct a cost-benefit analysis that could ultimately factor into whether the department renews or expands the program.
Mayor Robert Garcia lauded the process that had been nearing the one year mark since the department first started entertaining the idea of incorporating a body camera program into its ranks. The measure approach to the pilot program, he said, will ensure that the program is executed in a responsible way.
“It’s our expectation that we roll out the best body camera program in the country,” Garcia said. “And that we do it in a way that’s respectful to the officers that are wearing the cameras, but also protects the public and we’re ensuring that we’re being as transparent as possible.”
Long Beach will join a growing list of large cities in the state that have their officers outfitted with body cameras joining Oakland and San Diego. According to a study released in November, nationally, less than half of the country’s most populated cities have a body camera program, but over 20 other cities have plans on the books to possibly adopt a program.