Shooting Puts Body Cameras in Spotlight

  • 03/05/2015
  • Reporters Desk

Police Commission President Showcases New Technology at Fashion and Tech Show
By Katrina Guevara, Contributing Writer
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck probably didn’t expect to demonstrate the effectiveness of body cameras so soon after the department implemented them.

On March 1, a video posted on Facebook of officers killing a homeless man in downtown Los Angeles went viral, just four days after LAPD officers modeled wearable cameras at Bixel Exchange’s first Fashion and Technology Salon at The Reef in Los Angeles.

The LAPD said officers were responding to a report of a robbery when a man tried to fight them as they approached. During the struggle, according to the LAPD,  the man, later identified by the name “Africa,” reached for an officer’s gun, prompting police to open fire.

The officer and a sergeant involved in the shooting were both wearing body cameras. It’s been reported in the Los Angeles Times that the body camera footage supports the events depicted in the video captured by a bystander.

The police department’s policies regarding the devices and access to their footage is still being finalized. However, Beck said he does not want to publicly release the recordings unless required to do so for court proceedings.

The city hopes to fully deploy the cameras by summer 2015.

Days earlier, Sgt. Jason Ligouri modeled Axon, a video recorder developed by Taser International, on his shirt uniform, reportedly the same model used to capture the March 1 shooting.

The Axon recorder is a camera box that can be mounted onto a uniform shirt, belt or pockets. The lens has a 130-degree field of view with retina low-light technology. The device can be turned on with the press of a button, in which the footage directly uploads to, a digital evidence management website run by Taser. Officials can view their recordings via a Motorola cell video viewer. The officers will be required to turn it on while they’re on duty.

“Video is important, but it is just one piece of investigation,” Ligouri said.

Ligouri has been a supporter of the camera for the past seven years. He said many officers have taken the initiative to use their own tape recorders while on duty.

The LAPD would not use Axon until a policy is finalized and officers are properly trained. As of March 3, it’s not clear what body camera was used to capture the shooting.

In the wake of massive demonstrations against police shootings of unarmed men of color nationwide, many hope the introduction of wearable technology will bring a measure of transparency.

In January of 2014, KPCC radio reported that the department raised $1.3 million from individual donors, including Steven Speilberg, Casey Wasserman and Jeffrey Katzenberg, as well as organizations like Occidental Petroleum and the Dodgers.  The department expected to raise the money in 9 months, but instead the money was raised in 58 days. An Axon body camera costs $399 per unit, according to Taser International’s website.

“[Axon body is] transformative for law enforcement in America,” said Soboroff about pitching the idea to financial backers.

The LAPD litigates more than $100 million in lawsuits a year, said Soboroff. The cost of the cameras, which is one-hundredth the cost of lawsuits, could help minimize litigation and unwarranted citizens’ complaints.

In 2013, Rialto police chief and police foundation fellow William Farar, published a study that found in the one year his department utilized the body cameras, the number of complaints against officers in that San Bernardino County city fell by 88 percent. The use of force by officers fell by more than 60 percent.

Chief Farar’s study began February 2012, and ended in July 2013. The New York Times reported in a story about Farar’s study, that within a year, the use of force by officers fell by more than 60 percent.

“If officers have on a body cam, it would have slowed down their thinking,” Soboroff said. “Such events as what happened to Eric Gardner would have deescalated [with a body camera].”

The police department and city have the right to record arrests and accidents, among other incidents. Arrest logs, calls for service logs, statistics, crime and accident reports are available under the California Public Records Act.

Recording incidents regarding domestic violence and juvenile victims must follow regulations under the American Civil Liberties Union.

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