In less than two months, new Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff has persuaded private donors to put up $1.2 million to buy 600 video cameras that police officers will wear on the job. The money is the first step in a project that could dramatically change policing in the city by increasing the accountability of both officers and the people they come into contact with.
Soboroff said officers will be testing different camera models this month and could be outfitted with the new technology within nine months. That’s lightning speed compared with the effort to put cameras in patrol cars, which was first proposed two decades ago, after the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King by police. In 2005, the federal monitor overseeing the department again called for cameras, to ensure that officers were treating minorities fairly. Yet only about a quarter of patrol cars now have cameras.
Whether cameras are mounted on patrol cars or worn by the officers themselves, the idea is the same: to create an objective record of interactions between police and the public and, ultimately, to reduce conflict. Recording traffic stops, shootings and other encounters can help discourage — or document — police misconduct and can also serve to clear officers if they are falsely accused of wrongdoing.
This technology holds great promise for police and the public, with the right protections.