Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced that he plans to outfit police officers in his city with body cameras. In an effort to help reduce incidents of unarmed civilians being injured or killed by police amid questionable circumstances, Garcetti said he hopes to have 7,000 cameras by the end of next fiscal year. He will include funding in his next budget proposal.
Los Angeles follows a growing number of cities dealing with the aftermath of protests following non-indictments of white officers killing unarmed black men.
The problem is systemic, said Theresa Fouman, an activist in L.A. “Here you have grand juries failing to prosecute the police. Prosecutors are used to working with police to indict criminals. Their relationships make it harder to get a conviction, especially when the police become the bad guys.”
Racial profiling, police brutality and abuse of power in communities of color has existed for decades. However, 2014 has seen a surge of protests that has not been seen in years. Protestors have taken to the streets of America, shutting down shopping malls and freeways to draw attention to the injustice of officers walking free after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and the chokehold that a medical expert said contributed to the death of Eric Garner in New York City. Both men were unarmed.
In the Garner case, which was recorded, Daniel Pantaleo continued to hold his arm tightly against Garner’s neck despite Garner saying repeatedly “I can’t breathe.” There was no recording of the incident with Brown.
Police often say video does not tell the whole story. They say what the public sees—usually a beating or shooting—is a reaction to what occurred before; that the whole incident, with audio and visual from start to finish needs to be shown in order to make a sound judgment. In nearly all high-profile cases, only the violence by police is shown. Wearing cameras will help bring all of the elements together for the criminal court system as well as the court of public opinion.
“These cameras will help law enforcement and the public alike find the truth — and truth is essential to the trust between the LAPD and the community, which has been a key factor in lowering crime to record lows,” Garcetti said.
President Barack Obama has asked for $263 million in federal funding to provide body cameras and additional training of police. He noted that body cameras can protect both the police and public, and clarify conflicting testimony between police officers and citizens.
City Council President Herb Wesson said he expects funding for the cameras to be approved. “Trust is hard to earn, but it can easily be lost,” he said. “With the cameras, the police and the public they encounter will be on record and accountable. This is a good thing for Los Angeles.”
The cameras are expected to cost around $1.5 million and will be provided through private donations raised by Police Commission President Steve Soboroff. The first 800 Axon cameras made by Taser are expected to be rolled out and worn by selected officers at the beginning of next year. The cameras are designed to be worn on the chest.
While public outcry over the deaths of Brown and Garner have dominated the news in recent weeks, Garcetti said he has been pushing for body cameras for over a year.