Police officers assigned to foot patrols of downtown Los Angeles began wearing on-body cameras on Wednesday as the city evaluates different models to include in its policing.
Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said 30 officers have volunteered for 90-day trials of devices provided by Arizona-based Taser International Inc. and Coban Technologies Inc. of Houston.
Each company has donated 60 of its units for the field test. At the end of the trial, 600 cameras from one of the companies will be purchased and deployed, Soboroff said.
Departments across the country have started to test on-body cameras, with the Rialto Police Department providing them to all of its officers and participating in a University of Cambridge study examining the impacts of the technology on policing.
The 12-month study found an 89 percent drop in complaints against police during the trial.
In Los Angeles, the use of on-body cameras is meant to complement the longtime city goal of equipping the department's 1,350 patrol cars with video recorders.
Since the 1991 beating of Rodney King, the LAPD has worked to bring in-car cameras to its vehicles but that effort has been stymied primarily because of budget reasons. Thus far, more than 300 cruisers are equipped with cameras in the South Bureau and the department is working to roll them out in about 380 more in the Central Bureau, said LAPD Chief Information Officer Maggie Goodrich.
Soboroff privately raised more than $1.2 million from nearly 25 donors to secure funding for the on-body cameras. The money came from Hollywood heavy hitters such as director Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg along with former mayor Richard Riordan, media giant Casey Wasserman and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While in-car cameras capture video in front of and inside patrol cars, on-body cameras capture video elsewhere; for example, inside a home or away from the vehicle.
The captured video is displayed instantaneously on an iPod. At the end of the day, officers upload the video and it's saved for five years.
LAPD Officer Jesus Toris said people notice the cameras.
"People have a different reaction when you approach them, so it does help," he said.
Supporters of the on-body cameras said the goal is to eventually have them for the entire Los Angeles force, ultimately saving the city millions in lawsuits.
"You wind up getting sued or wind up getting a complaint or something like that, it could have been alleviated had we had audio and video," LAPD Sgt. James Sterling said.
Police Chief Charlie Beck has said the addition of on-body cameras will be a helpful investigative and accountability tool, as well as a less expensive option than in-car video.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said he has spoken with Beck about the importance of consulting with the community on the protocols for camera use given potential privacy concerns.
During the testing period, Soboroff said, the department will meet with the police union, which supports the cameras, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, members of the City Council, and the inspector general of the Police Commission to draw up rules on use.
"The nice thing about this is there's a real consensus among some of the biggest critics of the department and the officers and the union that they all want this transparency," said Garcetti. "Everybody's convinced, look, this is going to show how bad the officers are or how good they are."
A website will be created within 60 days to take comments from the public, Soboroff said.