In March 2018, the LAPD reversed course and changed its policy barring the release of body worn videos to the public. This article addresses the development of the LAPD’s video publication policies, including the new, more liberal policy to release body cam and other videos to the public.
October 2009-LAPD Implements Digital In-Car Video Systems
In October 2009 the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) implemented a program for the use of digital in-car video systems (DICVS)inside patrol vehicles. The purported purpose of this systems was to, “assist for courtroom presentations, capturing potentially incriminating statements from suspects, documenting and reviewing statements from victims and witnesses, and obtaining actual time frames of events for reporting purposes….”
The system was required to be activated for all vehicle stops, all Code 3 responses and pursuits (Emergency response, lights, and siren), all suspect transports, all pedestrian stops and when generally beneficial. Once activated, “the front camera shall remain activated until the entire incident or field contact has stabilized, or the contact has stabilized, or the contact has ended.” The rear camera was required to remain activated until the suspect exits.
In situations involving the use of force, the program purported to preclude an officers review of the video prior to a release of a public safety statement following an officer involved shooting.
April 2015-LAPD Establishes Body Worn Video Procedures
The LAPD implemented its body worn video (BWV)procedures in April 2015. The defined purpose of the use of BWV was to:
- Collect evidence for use in criminal investigations and prosecutions;
- Deter criminal activity and uncooperative behavior during police-public interactions;
- Assist officer with completing reports and providing testimony in court;
- Promote accountability;
- Assist in resolving complaints against officers including false allegations by members of the public; and,
- Provide additional information for officer evaluation, training, and continuous improvement
According to LAPD policy, the BWV equipment was received outside the officer’s uniform facing forward to make video and audio recordings. The video and audio are stored digitally on the camera; an officer cannot modify, alter or delete video or audio once recorded.
The policy provides that BWV equipment “shall” be activated by an officer “prior” to initiating an investigative or enforcement activity involving a member of the public for,
- Vehicle stops;
- Calls for service
- Code 3 responses
- Foot pursuits;
- Uses of force;
- In custody transports;
- Witness and victim interview
- Crowd management and control
- Other investigative or enforcement subject to the officer’s judgment
The policy excuses an officer from immediate activation if an officer is unable to do so prior to initiating any investigative or enforcement activities but requires the activation as soon and practical and safe.
LAPD’s policy requires that BWV video continue, “until the investigation or enforcement activity involving a member of the public has ended. “If investigation or enforcement activity recommences, the officer is required to re-activate the BWV.
In the event an officer fails to activate the BWV pursuant to these policies, “the officer shall set forth the reasons why a recording was not made, was delayed, was interrupted, or was terminated,” in various designated reports. However, an officer is not required to activate and record investigative or enforcement if:
- A witness or victim refuses to provide a statement if recorded and the encounter is non-confrontational
- If the officer decides that a recording would interfere with his or her ability to conduct an investigation, or may be inappropriate, because of the victims or witness’s physical condition, emotional state, age or other sensitive circumstances (e.g., a victim of rape, incest, or other form of sexual assault)
- Situations where record would risk the confidentiality of informants
- In patient-care areas of a hospital, rape treatment center or healthcare facilities
As with the DIVCS, officers may not “copy, edit, alter, erase or modify” the BWVs. Where there is a BWV of an officer involved shooting or use of force, the officer is precluded from reviewing his or her BWV until authorized by investigator of the “Force Investigation Division.” Once authorized, the officer is required to review the BWV video on their assigned device or authorized computer prior to documenting an incident, arrest, search, interview, use of force, or other enforcement or investigative activity. The policy precludes two officers involved in a use of force incident from reviewing the video jointly.
The policy provides that the BWV videos, data etc. are its property, barring any unauthorized release. Additionally, under this version of the policy, the BWV records were categorized as confidential; the LAPD asserted that the unauthorized release could compromise ongoing criminal and administrative investigations or violate privacy rights of those who were recorded. As such, the unauthorized release of a BWV constituted serious misconduct and would subject an officer to disciplinary action.
June 2016-Funding of BWVs
In June 2016 the Los Angeles City Council enacted a $59 million budget authorization to equip more than 7,000 patrol officers with body cameras
March 2018- LAPD Implements a New Policy Authorizing the Release of Video of Critical Incidents
As of March 2018, the LAPD enacted a new policy relating to the release of BWVs, DICVS, policy facility surveillance video, police drone videos and videos taken by the public. The new policy applied to:
- Officer-involved shootings, regardless of whether a person was hit by gunfire
- A use of force resulting in death or serious bodily injury requiring hospitalization
- All deaths while an arrestee/detainee in the custodial care of the Department unless there is no preliminary evidence of any of the following: misconduct, a use of force, or an act committed by an arrestee/detainee that appears intended to cause injury or death; or
- Any other policy encounter where the Commission or the Chief of Police determines the release of the video is in the public interest.
Privacy Exceptions to this policy include protections for juveniles and victims of certain crimes. In those instances, where redactions or edits cannot protect a person’s privacy, the policy authorizes the withholding of the video. The policy further authorizes the removal of sounds, blurring of faces to avoid identifying individuals, locations or legally protected information.
The policy authorizes the Chief of Police and the Police Commission’s two designated liaisons, by unanimous decision to delay the release of a particular video. This decision is required to be supported by facts and specifics. The initial decision to delay the release is subject to review every fourteen days thereafter and as supported by the facts. The delay is further subject to review by the LAPD Police Commission at its next public meeting. The justification for the delay in releasing videos consists of:
- Safety of the involved individuals, including officers, witnesses, bystanders or other third parties
- Integrity of an active investigation
- Confidential sources or investigative techniques
- Constitutional rights of an accuses.
Prior to the release of any video, the policy requires a reasonable attempt to provide 48-hour notification to:
Officers in the video and/or involved in the use of force
The subject of the use of force
The District Attorney and City Attorney’s Office
Other individuals or entities connected to the incident.
The videos will remain posted on the LAPD’s website for 12 months after the Police Commissioner’s adjudication of the incident.
While the new release policy is welcome, a number of questions remain regarding the implementation of the policy in specific instances. These include:
- The officer’s discretion to not activate or to deactivate BMVs
- The timing of an officer’s review of a BMV
- The delayed release of videos in certain instances
- The discretion to edit and redact videos in certain instances
ACTS will continue to monitor developments and to use the new liberalized policy to the benefit of our clients in the litigation of excessive force cases.