LAPD Law Enforcement Reform Los Angeles Police Commission

In Historic Decision LA Police Commission Reverses Policy & Will Allow Release of Police Videos

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

In an historic decision that could serve as a model for other law enforcement agencies in the nation, on Tuesday morning the Los Angeles Police Commission voted unanimously to allow the release of the LAPD’s video footage of officer-involved shootings and other critical incidents, such as deaths in custody, within 45 days of its creation, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

The new policy, which was a reverse of the department’s previous policy, could also include bystanders’ cell phone videos and security camera footage.

Videos of other police encounters could also be released if they are deemed to be “in the public interest.”

“We have learned a lot in the 3 years since we released the initial policy,” Chief Charlie Beck tweeted after the vote, “and are ready as a Department to continue to move forward.”

“I think this will go a long way in helping build public trust through a significant increase in transparency,” Commission Vice President Matt Johnson said.

In a news conference after the commission meeting, Beck talked about the kinds of situations that might cause a delay in release. But the chief said that in most cases the 45 day window will be enough time, and no further delay will be needed.


At first, lots of cameras but no videos

In the summer of 2016, the Los Angeles City Council voted to allocate $59 million plan to buy and equip approximately 7,000 LAPD patrol officers with body cameras.

The purchase of those cameras, and along with additional cameras to be mounted in patrol cars, set off a firestorm of arguments about when and how the resulting videos could and should be released. Until now, the policy has been essentially to refuse to release any videos at all.

Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, has been one of the strongest critics of the old policy.

“This is potentially a significant step forward,” Peter Bibring told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze on Tuesday. Bibring, who is the director of police practices at the ACLU of Southern California, was one of the strongest critics of the old policy.

“We give no government official more power than a police officer, who is allowed to use deadly force. It’s crucial the public understands how that power is used,” he added.

ACLU state attorney Melanie Ochoa, expressed lingering concern to the commissioners about the new policy prior to their 4-0 vote. “The department has routinely withheld video on grounds that it will interfere with ongoing investigations,” she said. “We want to make sure this does not occur under the new policy as well.”

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has been one of the strongest voices against the change in policy, which she says she fears could taint juries and witnesses and make prosecutions more difficult.

“The Police Commission policy jeopardizes the justice process by exposing witnesses to video evidence before they are interviewed by our independent investigators,” Lacey said when the new policy was still in draft form.

Interestingly, the department’s union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, spoke in support of the new policy at Tuesday’s meeting, along with representatives of the ACLU and others, although the LAPPL, which represents around 9,900 LAPD department members, didn’t agree with everything in the plan.

“We are appreciative of the opportunity to provide our input to Commissioners’ Johnson and Goldsmith as this policy was crafted,” the union said in a statement. “We may not always agree, but we must do our best to work together in an open and honest manner. Although all of our alternatives were not incorporated into the proposed policy, those that were incorporated will increase officer safety and minimally extend the investigative process prior to release of any video.”


Even the rank-and-file mostly in favor

Last spring, the Police Commission asked the Policing Project of New York University School of Law to conduct a citywide community discussion process in order to gather public input about the issue of whether, when, and how, video footage of critical incidents should be made publicly available.

The Policing Project gathered 3,200 questionnaires from Los Angeles residents, along with written comments from 27 local and national organizations, including the ACLU, the National Action Network Los Angeles, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and more. They also held five community forums and eight officer focus groups, and worked with public officials and academic partners at UCLA and UCI law schools.

The resulting 40-page report released last September, found that, in general, both police officers and LA residents agreed that video should be released to the public, for “reasons of transparency, accountability, and trust.”

“However, the public favored releasing video within a relatively shorter release time (30–60 days),” the report’s authors wrote, and members of the public generally preferred that release of videos be “automatic as opposed to “decided on a case-by-case basis.”

The police, however, while favoring release, tended to disagree vehemently about the timing, preferring “to wait to release video until after the District Attorney decides whether to file charges, or “at least until the investigation is complete and the LA Police Commission decides whether the officer acted appropriately.”

Both groups worried about the process becoming politicized.

“Cities throughout the country are struggling with when to release body camera video after an officer-involved shooting,” said Policing Project Director Barry Friedman, after the LA Police Commission’s Tuesday morning vote. “Too often these decisions are made ad hoc, under pressure. We commend the Police Commission for developing a clear policy to guide these decisions, and doing so with substantial input from the broader L.A. community.”

After the commissions vote, Chief Charlie Beck cautioned everyone from believing that the release of video will always result in clarity about any given incident.

He also mentioned the emotional difficulty presented by such videos.

“Sometimes these things, even when they are completely justified, completely appropriate, are still hard to watch,” said Beck. “There is no acceptable way for a viewer to watch somebody get shot.”

The new policy will go live in 30 days.

26 Comments

    • EDITOR’S NOTE:

      Dear Sure Fire,

      In answer to your question, I trashed it. I’ve officially lost my patience. For further information please see WLA’s 10 rules of Commenting.

      C.

  • Bet it wasn’t half as bad as the stuff cf-2 (excuse me, reg) writes most of the time. Racist ,sexual stuff. Guess conformation bias might be the 11th rule.

  • Glad to see that both Police Officers and citizens agree. Anyone, cops or citizens are less apt to act “unbecoming” knowing that they are being videotaped.
    LAPPL with the exception of a few items agreed also, which speaks volumes with all things considered. A mixed bag from some with the consensus welcoming transparency. Bravo.

    • Cops have consequences for “behaving badly” or missteps, the public on the other hand, suffers no consequences, far reaching ramifications or ridicule of any sort for acting out on tape.

  • The day that society realize’s cops are professional liars is the day things will change for the better. Cop’s ideology is verbage based. In other words, its all in the way the incident report is explained and written. I.e., I hit the inmate in the head with
    my baton in the face as he ran towards me in a “physically threatening manner.” Let’s look deeper, the inmate was running, but according to the officer, in a “physically threatening way.” The whole comment just changed the game. It went from a possible over reaction/mistake to a righteous murder in the eyes of the law based on the words of the officer simply because he has a gun, a badge, and paased the minimum requirement to have a police license in the state he is licensed in. No one will dare question his credibility as long as his written report sounds logical and it matches his verbal account of the entire event. How absurd right…Well thats law enforcement for you! Videos will be released, wow how pathetic. Cops will find a silver lining in the video to explain how things happened in a way that would justify their illegal action’s for the ignorant eye of the public. A video we can see now HAAAA. Reminds of the Rodney King incident where we all saw the tape. Law Enforcement needs be overhauled completely. From the recruiting through the moment a cops are given a gun and badge. It’s going to happen. I’m just waiting for the moment that the public is fully made aware of what is really happening. Cops have bc such bullies that no one wants to even try to challenge them but once they have been made aware or have that “shock of the conscience” things are really going to change…for now this nothing more than joke

  • A video is a 2-dimensional representation of an event that takes place in a 3-dimensional world filled with all the sights, tastes, sounds, textures and colors one can imagine. How can anyone expect a video recording to depict a 100%, a real world event that is tense, stressful and inherently dangerous?

    You try using using pen and paper to describe in words a life or death event, where you have to quickly decide to defend yourself, someone else or even take someone’s life. It ain’t easy, especially when you have folks who think all cops are bad and could care less if they die or get hurt.

    A difficult and much need job, somebody has to do.

  • Sure Fire: I was making a ton of sense and bringing up valid points that conflicted with WLA’s agenda. It was making Celeste and the other Far Lefties address things they new made them sound like complete hypocrites.

    Then about 3-4 of my comments vanished. I called Celeste on it and she came up with some laughable excuse about some computer phishing problem or some shit. It was comical!!!

  • And non of my comments violated WLA’s rules at all. You know the ones that CF/Reg violates in just about every post.

    To be fair, this was a few months back. Maybe the “computer post sniper” is in County on an unrelated charge.

  • Reckoning: “for the ignorant eyes of the public”. Your words from your post above. These words speak volumes. Volumes.

  • Celeste should let me debate her on my claims, but she would never do that because it makes her all nervous.
    Gee Reckoning, you just laid yourself out as someone who wouldn’t believe the visual evidence that’s presented to you right before your eyes in a police event because of your overwhelming hate for them. Speaks to your lack of ethics.
    I’ve acted to fire officers with nothing but witness statements and a preponderance of evidence that brought me to a conclusion that it was the course to be taken after an investigation was over, no visual evidence needed.
    Looks like at least one of us works from a set of ideals where honesty is involved.

  • Sure Fire, Maj Kong, Conspiracy, Ownership, and the rest, why don’t you gentlemen leave Celeste alone. She occasionally blocks my comments, but I respect that it is her site and she sets the rules. She may feel that I am picking on you gentlemen a bit too much, or otherwise finds my comments unworthy. That is fine. Let me remind you that your 1st amendment rights do not apply to Celeste or this site, as much as your misreading of the constitution may lead you to believe that. If not happy, start your own blog. If you do, please provide me with the address so that we can continue to be friends.

    On the issue of the video, it is about time. I would still like to see the video not be available to the police until after their report is written. We will then see how many crooked cops we have. Reviewing the video beforehand gives then an idea of what to write, what angle to use, how they may use something they were not even aware of, such as a shiny object on the ground and claiming they thought it was a knife, or such.

    Sure Fire, what does “I acted to fire officers with nothing but witness statements…” mean. I seriously doubt that given how hard it is to fire you folks. For god’s sake, you can get arrested for diddling little cadets and still get a pay check while you are prosecuted. Who else has that job security. Or, you get busted lying, and you still keep your job and the union protects your name from being released. Please, that nonsense may fly elsewhere, but not here.

    • Don’t you think the bright minds in the ACLU and multitude of other oversight groups have already put checks in place regarding officers and way they video footage of an incident they are involved in? If you believe video footage should be the sole factor in judging an incident, police reports should be done with all together. Both sides should just look at the video, fill in the blanks and let both sides hash it out based on their biased interpretations of the video footage.

  • Surefire:. I hope in making ur recommendations for termination you do not use the 51% rule (preponderance). God knows witnesses never lie. And don’t get me started on honesty…..My Chief once told me the truth didn’t matter….it’s the ethos most organizations use these days. Be it politics or law enforcement…

  • CF…Ha Ha Ha Ha…STFU Reg, nothing else.

    Sometimes cops deserve to be fired and video isn’t needed. Get a grip people.

    Oh, said before I have a blog, have had it for years. Would scare Reg.

  • Cf-2/reg you were running amok until the commenters began pointing out your racist, sexual, and profane comments. You frequently violated at least 4 of cf-1’s 10 rules. You pass yourself as a troll to the commenters but I think you’re really trolling cf-1. You took advantage of her bias by pretending to be anti racist, thus allowing you to spew several incredibly racist rants without even a warning from cf-1. Pretty good prank, if your into that sort of thing, as you obviously are.

  • The prime example of bodycams and police videos with expedited release would be the shooting death of Stephon Clark who was killed by Sacramento Police this past Sunday in Sacramento, California.

    • The video was released before the internal/external investigation was even completed. Now the court of public opinion will be the true judge.

      Speaking of jumping the gun. Remember Ferguson, MO. Even the leftist leaning DOJ report concluded the officer was justified and that the statements of several key witnesses were flat out lies. Nevertheless, the city, state and country were put into chaos and the officers life ruined by reckless media reporting and vote hungry politicians.

      • Any investigation conducted can still be completed. Regardless of anyone’s opinion, the unfiltered and uncompromising truth is in the open for all to see. Been there, done that.

        Transparency is the key.

        • The officer’s muting their body cams after realizing the fatal mistake only excaberates the investigation in the Stephon Clark death. Not a good look.

  • Conspiracy – No one has ever said video should be the sole factor. Who said that? It is a factor, one factor, that should be considered. And, it should be released, both to the public and the officers, after the officer has made his report. You realize how reliable “eye witness” is. And, yes, witnesses lie… people lie, officers lie. More importantly, witnesses, even if they are not lying and genuinely belief they are telling the truth, can be unreliable, as numerous cases have should. I’m glad you recognize it, and maybe you will consider that next time you defend an officer who said he “saw” a gun, when nothing is found.

    Major Kong – Amazing. You’re always one step ahead of everyone. Why you did not become Chief or Sheriff boggles the mind. You are the only one that figured out it was a prank. Now, go back to watching re-runs of Cops.

    Sure Fire, is your question why is transparency key? If so, its important because you are a government employee and getting paid with tax dollars. You are working for and on behalf of the public. That is why. That is one of the reasons we have a Public Records Act to get documents from government agencies, or financial disclosure laws for politicians, and governing body meetings, with few exceptions, open to the public, etc. If you think it too intrusive, please apply elsewhere and stop feasting at the government trough.

    • WOW…CF….one of the only times you responded with out by being race into the conversation, painting everyone who disagrees with you as a racist and bot resulting to base and juvenile insults. Progress!

      Just as you say witness can lie, have clouded memories and be unreliable so should you afford the same characteristics of human behavior to police officers after stressful incidents. You try writing a 100% accurate, detailed, blow by blow report of an incident where you were in fear of your life or in s fight? It will not be a line by line flow chart that is exactly the same as the video of the incident. Human nature, survival instincts, human physiology play tricks on the mind when the focuses is on survival.

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