Police See Benefit Equipping Officers With Body Cams

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Hawthorne police offered NBC4 an up-close look at how their police body cameras work. The city’s mayor is pushing to outfit all of the city's officers with them, saying they discourage police misconduct. Patrick Healy reports from Hawthorne for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

    The movement to have law enforcement encounters recorded on video is gaining support among not only police watchdogs, but also officers who believe video provides them protection against unfounded complaints.

    "Every month we have more officers asking for cameras," said Robert Fager, chief of police in the South Bay city of Hawthorne.
    In his department's experience, the chief said video "mitigates almost every complaint."
    Like many law enforcement agencies, Hawthorne police began installing dash cams in its police cars.  Later came helmet cams for motocycle officers, and more recently body cams worn on an officer's uniform or eyeglasses.
    "The body cam moves with you everywhere," said Hawthorne Police Lt. Ti Goetz.
    Now Hawthorne's Mayor Chris Brown has proposed that all of the city's uniformed officers wear video cameras. The issue will come before the City Council next week. 
    Experience in other cities has shown benefits.  In San Bernardino County, after Rialto police equipped its officers with body cams, a study published last year found significant reductions in not only complaints against officers, but also the number of police use-of-force incidents.
    The Los Angeles Police Department has been testing two different body cam systems.  Before year's end, LAPD expects to deploy several hundred cameras to be purchased with a $1.2 million in donations to the Police Foundation during a fundraising drive led by LAPD Commission President Steve Soboroff.
    The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department also plans to begin testing body cams next month, according to spokesperson Nicole Nishida.
    In Hawthorne, Goetz has become a camera booster.  Ticketed drivers who intend to fight citations or complain of officer misconduct, he said, often change their minds when told there is video.
    Nationally, calls for body cameras have often stemmed from controversy over police use of force. Mayor Brown said the potential benefit of cameras was driven home to him by the events in Ferguson, Missouri, where community anger was unleashed after the confrontation that 
    resulted in an officer shooting to death unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
    "It's one thing to have a witness, it's another to have a camera as a witness," said Leon Rosby, a Hawthorne resident who has sued the city's police department for alleged excessive force.  
    Body cams, and the prospect of recording video on calls that take officers inside homes, do raise privacy issues, said Fager.  Working out policies on when to start recording have yet to be
    settled.  Some officers have also raised concerns about constant video monitoring potentially invading their privacy.
    Fager, like many chiefs in other police departments, sees body cams as part of the future of policing, but cautioned that getting there is not simple.
    "It's not turnkey," he said.