By Jan. 1, 700 Los Angeles police officers will be equipped with on-body cameras. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday from LAPD Headquarters.
The news comes after a year of beta-testing various technology and brands.
"The time for action is now," Garcetti said. "We are executing a contract to deploy more than 700 body cams in Central, Mission and Newton Divisions." The cost is about $1.5 million to start, the mayor saying it could cost no more than $9 million annually to maintain depending on the contract the City is able to get from the supplier, Tazer International.
"These measures are not a substitute for open lines of communication," Garcetti said. "Cameras are a critical step forward, but we must make sure the bridge we've built does not get weakened."
The LA Police Protective League applauded the announcement saying. President Tyler Izen said the union does not object to the idea but "actually believe they will be useful in defending our officers against false allegations."
But while the mayor plans to roll out the first of the cameras by the first of the year, there's still concern about policy. Police officers themselves, the Department as a whole, the Police Commission, City Council and citizens of LA still have time to comment about how the cameras should be used.
LAPD is taking suggestions on their website but Police Chief Charlie Beck says nearly all interaction with the public will be recorded. Exceptions to the rule could include interactions in private homes and interviews with victims of abuse.
"The trust between a community and its police department can be eroded in a single moment," Garcetti said. "Trust is built on the truth, and trust is build on transparency."
It's that transparency that's lead to outcry across the nation. While LA had been looking into the on-body cameras for a few years, Beck drew parallels to the video from the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri this year.
"What happens in Ferguson, a town not even the size of one of the police divisions in LA, has affected us," he said, but that LA will lead the nation in its response, "equipping every one of our officers with these cameras says a lot about how much faith we have in our cops."
A demonstration of the cameras helped reporters understand what officers are able to gather with the cameras. Both audio and video are part of it, but it only begins when the officer manually presses the record button.
Sgt. Dan Gomez explained, "When I double-click it, it's going to turn on, you hear the beep. I know the system's on, it's being recorded, you have an interaction and when I'm done with the interaction, I simply press and hold and I hear a long beep and now I know the system is off."
Some critics have questioned the timing of when officers would push the record button. Gomez explained that the camera's default is that once the record button is pushed, the video adds a 30-second "pre-roll" to catch the preceding 30 seconds before the recording started.
"We will have policies and rules on when you should record and when you shouldn't and the officers will be held accountable for that," he said.
Chief Beck says all the video recorded will instantly be saved on a cloud with Evidence.com, officers will be required to "dock" their cameras after every shift.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has voiced its concern with the cameras, calling the move encouraging but far from solving every problem in policing.
"Deciding to adopt cameras is a significant step," ACLU of SoCal Executive Director Hector Villagers said in a statement, "but the Los Angeles Police Department has yet to do the most important work of setting policies that determine how they’re actually used. For body cameras to fulfill their promise as tools for accountability, they have to be turned on whenever an officer contacts a civilian for investigative purposes — officers can’t have discretion to 'edit on the fly' by turning cameras off. And if cameras are going to be tools used to shed light on what really happened, police officers can’t be allowed to review videos of critical incidents before they give initial statements or interviews on what happened."
Sgt. Gomez showed how police would have access to review videos on their cellphones using Bluetooth technology, but pointed out that none of the video could be manipulated before being sent to the cloud.
But as the program moves forward, Beck says he hopes LA will set the standard for the nation.
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"The entire nation waits to see what happens in LA," he said.
Garcetti also used the news conference Tuesday to announce his nomination for President Obama's Task Force on 20th Century Policing, nominating Beck to the team, as he put it, "to show what LA can do for America."
The on-body cameras are set to roll out on 700 officers by January first with all officers expected to be equipped with them by July 2016.