From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 20
By Jay Beeler
Recently I overheard a CBS news report about the use of police wearing body cameras resulting in an 88 percent decrease in complaints against police officers. That got my attention.
Doing some internet research, I found that statistic published in the New York Times concerning the Rialto, Calif. Police Department; it further stated that police use of force declined 60 percent. These are not surprising statistics inasmuch as people will behave differently if they know their actions are being recorded and can be used as evidence in a court of law.
The public is already armed with recording devices, such as cell phones and camcorders, often taken at great distances and missing much of the activity leading up to the physical action.
A spokesman for Digital Ally, one of several companies that make the devices, told me that 99 percent of the time police officers are vindicated from charges of abuse or improper conduct when these devices are in use. He further stated that there are thousands of police departments currently using them, either by individual officers or by the entire department.
Last week the Spokane Police Department made the commitment and currently the Los Angeles Police Department is moving in that direction. That made me wonder, “Why not Long Beach, where the chief of police strongly supports the use of modern technology?”
Chief Jim McDonnell was traveling and unable to immediately respond to my emailed question on this topic, but Long Beach Police Officer’s Association President Steve James stated: “We do not currently have a position of support or opposition. We are always willing to look at new technology. The issues that would be of concern with body cameras would center on privacy. Having a video camera rolling during your entire 10-hour shift could prove to be invasive and could lead to recording personal events that no one would want recorded. There could also be privacy issues for those we come in contact with. We would want more information as to how the cameras would be used, and who would have access to the videos.”
“In short,” James continued, “we would have a lot of questions regarding the use of body cameras, but we are more than willing to have those discussions if the department so desires.”
From my own personal experience, I can tell you that corruption exists within the Long Beach Police Complaint Commission, conflicted city attorney/prosecutor offices that previously protected the guilty while prosecuting the innocent, and a police department supervised by a city manager trying to do the right thing while covering the city’s ass(ets).
Long Beach’s current system of government is built on one overriding rule: “Cover your mistakes so we won’t get sued.” Even the city’s Code of Ethics is devoid of the words “honesty, integrity and truth,” so lying on the witness stand by police is commonplace. Body cameras would not lie about what really happened, and professional, ethical cops will embrace this new tool.
This was evident in the case of Douglas Zerby, where police were caught telling multiple conflicting statements and the jury awarded the family $6.5 million. Awards totaling $4.1 million were given to three Long Beach Police Officers involved in the aftermath of “Lobstergate,” as even the chief of police at that time, Anthony Batts, lied on the witness stand about specific events and various acts of retaliation against officers who told the truth.
Undoubtedly city management will claim that they cannot afford to spend $600,000 on the devices, which would cost approximately $1,500 each, including software, backup recordings with limited, authorized access, warranties, maintenance and related expenses.
But that should not prevent you, me and local businesses making donations to purchase the equipment and donating units to officers who would like to have them. Los Angeles is planning to purchase their equipment from private donations and we can too.
So if you think Long Beach should offer body cameras to its officers, mail your donation to Citywatch Foundation, PO Box 15679, Long Beach, CA 90815-0679. We’ll provide regular reports within these pages on the total amount received and give recognition to those donors who do not specifically request anonymity.
We really need to do this. And the sooner, the better. Call me if you have any questions or concerns at (562) 597-8000, or simply go online and Google “police body cameras” to learn more on the topic.