From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 17
By Jay Beeler
Since some of the 18,000 police departments nationwide began using police body cameras in 2012, the statistics have been convincing. The pioneering Rialto, Calif. Police Department experienced a 60 percent decline in police use of force incidents and there was an 88 percent decline in citizen complaints.
Image if all of the Ferguson, Mo. police officers used body cameras on Aug. 9. Chances are very good that 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death would not have occurred or at the very least, officer Darren Wilson’s actions would have been documented, revealing the truth. Ditto that locally in the LAPD officer’s shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, in South Los Angeles in the evening of Aug. 11.
Police body cameras are also needed in Long Beach, which has recorded more than 450 officer-involved shootings during the last ten years. A side benefit of this video documentation is that fewer claims are made against the city and, subsequently, fewer multi-million-dollar judgments against cities are awarded by the courts.
A typical body camera costs between $300 and $400, so for a city like Long Beach the expenditure would be under a half million dollars, plus future costs for data storage. The LBPD has asked for $1.5 million to buy tasers while paying out about $591,000 in two legal settlements partially involving the use of tasers.
Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin opined that body cameras would not necessarily have made a difference in those awards, due to the number of witnesses. A knowledgeable police source we spoke with countered that both cases may never have happened if the officers involved knew their actions were being recorded, citing how the cameras are effective in reducing the use of force.
More than 90 percent of an officer’s interactions with the public occur outside police vehicles, so those dashboard cameras have limited, but very effective value. Private security cameras are helping police solve crimes at unprecedented rates.
One of the leading manufacturers of police body cameras, Taser International, reports they have already sold systems to 1,200 police departments, which represents only seven percent nationwide and suggests that less than 20 percent of all departments are currently using the technology.
LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell is a big advocate of this type of technology and I fully anticipate that both the LBPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will be moving in this direction soon, with the less-than-professional officers kicking and screaming over the fact they can no longer get away with murder. Progressive police departments and officers alike will embrace and use the technology to their benefit.
Kudos to the Rotaract Club of Long Beach for organizing and conducting the 82nd Annual Great Sand Sculpture Contest this past weekend at Granada Beach. Proceeds benefit the Long Beach Library Foundation and this year a huge, 100-ton centerpiece sculpture depicted fictional characters and the event’s “Fizz, Boom, Read” theme. Typically more than 10,000 people attend this fun-filled event.
Inasmuch as I seldom visit the Granada Beach area, I was disappointed to see the state of that parking lot. Parking spaces were poorly marked. A combination of meter spaces and unmetered spaces validated by an entry ticket system was very confusing along with the lack of signage about this practice, plus non-visible hours of meter operation and meter fee information.
I witnessed numerous drivers equally confused by the current scheme and lack of adequate signage. This area needs a total makeover with either smart meters that accept credit/debit cards or a pay-after-you-enter system, found at many other area parking lots.
Equally disappointing was the lack of safety concern with some exhibit booths lining the bike path that saw bikers and pedestrians converging on the same intersection. In prior, similar events, safety cones were placed across the bike path along with signs directing bikers to dismount and walk through the event area, which is congested with pedestrians.
Afterward I spoke with City Manager Pat West regarding both issues and he stated that some immediate steps would be taken to clean up the parking lot situation. “The Granada lot is currently funded for repaving, restriping and upgraded meters and that should be done by June 2015,” he said.
The bike path falls under the Coastal Commission and therefore cannot be blocked. West stated it is the responsibility of the event organizers to keep booths and their patrons away from the bike path as well as have monitors in place to slow bike traffic and warn pedestrians. Although it wasn’t done this year on Sunday, West and Rotaract officials said that steps would be taken to alleviate future problems.