In a six-month pilot that started this month, dozens of Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies are wearing body-mounted cameras while on patrol.
According to a spokesperson for the LA County Sheriff's Department, 96 cameras are being tested at this time. Sheriff's deputies in the Lancaster area of the Antelope Valley and in the harbor region are already wearing body cameras, and San Gabriel Valley and south Los Angeles deputies will begin testing them by the end of the week.
Until now, the Sheriff's Department has not used in-vehicle or body-mounted cameras, but this new pilot program will change that. Body-mounted cameras, which may be worn on the lapel, shirt pocket, belt, helmet, collar or sunglasses, are one of the latest efforts by law enforcement agencies to increase transparency. With the simple press of a button, a deputy can begin recording audio and video that may prove invaluable in determining whether discrimination, excessive force or other types of misconduct have occurred. According to one news article, prior to the implementation of the body-mounted camera pilot program, some deputies had actually already purchased their recording devices with their own money as protection against false allegations.
The use of body cameras comes at a time when law enforcement agencies are under intense scrutiny for officer-involved shootings, such as the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Though the LA County Sheriff's Department program was not implemented in response to that specific incident, other shootings and allegations of police misconduct in the past have led to the department's desire to increase transparency. In 2013, for example, the U.S. Justice Department found that deputies in the Antelope Valley were making unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures, discriminating against Latinos and blacks in the area.
Eventually, we may see department-wide recordings of everything from routine traffic stops to arrests to officer-involved shootings. Such recordings may serve as key evidence in internal investigations and even criminal cases related to arrests, shootings and other actions involving sheriff's deputies. With cellphone and iPad videos of such incidents surfacing, as witnesses and other members of the community record what they see, deputies' body mounted cameras may provide another, closer view of the incidents to clear up confusion. Cameras may also discourage acts of excessive force or discrimination in the first place.
There are also numerous concerns about the use of on-body cameras by law enforcement personnel. One such concern involves protecting the identities of victims, witnesses and confidential informants who may be recorded on such devices.
Specific regulations will need to be established and enforced to ensure body cameras are properly used by law enforcement. This may include determining when they should be turned on, whether unedited recordings must be shown or if certain individuals may be protected when such videos are shown in investigations and court proceedings.
Whether all Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies and police begin wearing body-mounted cameras remains to be seen, but one thing holds true: the footage recorded on these devices may have a significant impact on criminal cases. If you have questions about what role footage from an in-vehicle or on-body camera may have in your case, or even a video recorded by a witness at the scene, you can find knowledgeable insight when you talk to an attorney at Lessem & Newstat.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers offer aggressive, insightful defense counsel against all types of misdemeanor and felony arrests and charges in Southern California. We represent defendants in state, federal and juvenile court, using our know-how to challenge the prosecution's evidence and build a compelling case that tells our client's side of the story. Contact our offices today to see how we can help you.