For years, I and others have argued for body camera (and police interrogation cameras) to be used in every jurisdiction. Despite the obvious value of such cameras, jurisdictions like Los Angeles County have resisted and still do not have this basic protection for both officers and citizens alike. Likewise, prosecutors in cities like Chicago long opposed the filming of officers by citizens.
The recent controversy over a traffic stop in L.A. shows the importance of such body cameras. In the video, an officer pulls over a self-described teacher for using her cellphone while driving and is met with a barrage of racist slurs. The officer was only able to show his side in the encounter because he paid for his own camera. It is absurd that Los Angeles County forces officers to pay for their own cameras to guarantee a record of such encounters. In LA County, it is bring your own camera (BYOC) or engage in policing at your own risk.
The African-American teacher is shown in the video immediately attacking the hispanic officer with a litany of racist slurs and insults from repeatedly calling him a “murderer”...
"Yes, I started to record because you're a murderer," she says.
"You're threatening to kill me and my son," she says at one point in the encounter.
...and then it escalated as the woman is heard telling the deputy,
"You're always going to be a Mexican. You'll never be white, you know that, right?"
"You'll never be white, which is what you really want to be," she says after signing a citation. "You want to be white."
Police say the woman is well known for bringing baseless charges against officers.
Here is the body cam video of the April 23 incident in San Dimas:
The officer remains calm despite the litany of insults.
My anger at the video was not just over the racist slurs but the fact that this officer had to equip himself in Los Angeles.
As many of us have argued for 20 years, these cameras protect officers and the public alike. If this officer did not have this videotape, this could have been an incident where there are two wildly different accounts between the driver and the officer. If a harassment claim is filed, the matter would likely be treated as unproven rather than untrue. It would remain on the officer’s record that he was accused for racism and harassment.
Yet, there is no anger at the political leaders in Los Angeles County for the failure to supply this basic piece of equipment. Last year was the first deployment of body cameras in the city for LA sheriffs. Los Angeles police officers began using body cameras in 2015.
While many politicians are now calling for body cams, it was not long ago that they remained silent on the issue or failed to object (or joined) as police departments demanded delays in the release of such records. In April 2018, the LAPD began releasing body cam footage to the public from officer-involved shootings.
One of the issues delaying such deployment has been the insistence of officers to have greater control in turning on and off cameras. There should be no such debate in terms of the cameras operating as all times in public movements and encounters.