Supervisors consider body cams for deputies

The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station

County supervisors are expected to vote on a motion Tuesday calling for sheriff’s deputies to begin wearing body cameras.

In the spirit of transparency and accountability, the body-worn cameras would record all interactions deputies have with the public.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a motion submitted by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis for the phased implementation of a body-worn camera program in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Access to the camera footage would be available to prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, as well as the public defender and alternate public defender.

Endorsing the proposal would require a number of county officials such as the inspector general, sheriff, public defender, alternate public defender, district attorney, chief executive officer, county counsel and Civilian Oversight Commission to report back, in writing, in 90 days, and every 60 days after that, on the program’s progress.

In their motion, Ridley-Thomas and Solis call the body cams a “widely used tool across the country to improve accountability and transparency of law enforcement.”

They also point out that the county has been considering body-worn cameras since the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence recommended, in 2012, that the LASD use them to address problematic use of force. 

A constantly changing technology and shifting projected costs, however, have delayed the body cams being worn. 

In July 2018, however, the Civilian Oversight Commission approved a report recommending the county move forward with body cams.

A month later, supervisors unanimously approved a Ridley-Thomas/Solis motion to hire an expert consultant to make recommendations. That expert was the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The IACP unveiled its report in June, along with a number of recommendations.

On the question of deputies being allowed to review footage shot by the body cameras, the association said:  “Policy should direct when deputies activate their body-worn cameras and procedures for deactivation. For routine calls for services,deputies should be allowed to access footage to assist in writing their reports.”

“For critical incidents, such as an officer-involved shooting, IACP notes this is the most sensitive body-worn camera policy topic,” the IACP wrote.

Two agencies, however, disagree with that recommendation.

Both the Office of the Inspector General and the Civilian Oversight Commission recommend not allowing deputies to review critical incident footage until they have written a preliminary report or given a statement. 

The IACP looked at “pros and cons,” Ridley-Thomas and Solis noted in their motion.

The IACP report notes: “In general, body-worn camera footage should be considered investigative records and not subject to release, unless required by law or court order. Based on best practice and newly enacted law enforcement transparency legislation, IACP’s recommendation is to release critical incident footage within 10 days following a written Public Records Act request, unless it would interfere with an active criminal or administrative investigation.”

On the question of cost, the IACP considers the proposed $34.4 million for the body cam program with 33 new full-time staff reasonable given the scale of the sheriff’s patrol operations.  

The cost includes $20.2 million in one-time costs related to the purchase of equipment, infrastructure upgrades, and patrol personnel training, and $14.2 million in ongoing costs for staffing and software licenses, and internet, cellular and cloud services.

The IACP also recommended setting aside a $3 million contingency reserve should unanticipated costs arise during implementation.

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