As Los Angeles became the largest city in the country to outfit its police officers with body cameras Tuesday, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) said it is “fine-tuning” a body camera policy it looks to implement in about a year.
The Los Angeles Police Commission approved the use of body cameras Tuesday for their policemen after a fraught meeting debating the officers' ability to view camera footage before writing their reports, among other issues. LBPD Commander Paul LeBaron said similar concerns in Long Beach have prompted the LBPD to take care in constructing their approach to the department’s future use of body cameras, which they hope to start piloting this summer.
“We are very much involved in the implementation of a body camera program,” LeBaron said, adding that they are “ironing out” privacy issues and other concerns. “People think ‘body cameras, that’s a great idea,’ but there are a lot of things that people don’t think about.”
These concerns include privacy, cost, and data infrastructure.
When it comes to privacy, LeBaron said the issue consists of “when to turn the camera on, and when to turn the camera off.” He said that people typically like cameras on cops, unless the camera is pointed at them, noting “cameras are great, but they can be prohibitive."
The second issue, cost, concerns the LBPD’s ability to balance capturing the correct, constructive data without generating an enormous amount of taxpayer expenses.
The last consideration, data storage and infrastructure, addresses the LBPD’s data capabilities - essentially making sure the department has the proper server and bandwidth for the body camera’s “massive data.”
According to LeBaron, the LBPD is partnering with an academic institution in gathering data from the body cameras and analyzing it to determine specific reductions in the use of force. LeBaron said he expects citizen complaints regarding cops to decrease, as other agencies have recorded decreases.
In fact, a 2013 study conducted by Cambridge professor Dr. Barak Ariel and Rialto Chief of Police Tony Farrar found an 88 percent decrease in citizen complaints as a result of body camera use in the city, and a 50 percent reduction in use-of-force incidents.
“We anticipate the [body camera program] is going to be very helpful,” LeBaron said. He noted that “community members are willing to make a complaint against an officer when it’s their word against the other,” but are more reluctant when a camera is objectively capturing the exchange.
LeBaron also anticipates a decrease in use-of-force incidents from a current rate of “about 0.56 percent,” as officers will be held accountable for the moments the camera captures. Three officer-involved shootings have occurred in Long Beach so far this year, with one fatal shooting, according to LBPD Lt. Lloyd Cox.
"We anticipate the professionalism they now show to just keep getting better," LeBaron said.
This article was updated on 5/1/15 at 7:56AM. The article originally stated that three officer-involved use-of-force incidents had occurred in Long Beach so far this year, and was corrected to clarify that three officer-involved shootings had occurred in Long Beach so far in 2015.