Audit puts LAPD patrol cars under scanner

The Los Angeles Police Commission’s civilian watchdog has released a report faulting police department supervisors for not proactively checking in-car video recordings to monitor for officer misconduct. Inspector General Alex Bustamante said police officials generally review recordings only when investigating “critical incidents” such as shootings and pursuits, or when a complaint is made against an officer.

Although the department checks to see whether the cameras were activated, Bustamante said, supervisors generally don’t look at what is captured on the videos or review them to assess officer conduct, tactics or decision-making. Doing so would be “too time-consuming and labor intensive,” according to the report. Moving forward, Bustamante wrote, his office will conduct “regular and substantive reviews” of the recordings to help LAPD officials more routinely evaluate the use of the technology and officers’ actions.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the department was reviewing the inspector general’s findings, but declined to comment until the report was publicly presented to the Police Commission. Bustamante described the technology as a valuable tool and said it worked well in providing information about many LAPD stops. But he also outlined concerns, finding that officers didn’t always turn on the cameras at the start of pedestrian stops and sometimes engaged subjects in areas that were out of sight.

As a result, the report said, the inspector general and LAPD officials identified measures “that will enable the department to obtain more complete video of each stop.” Those steps included drafting a new directive that “explicitly requires” officers to activate the cameras at all stop initiations. Department policy requires officers to turn on the cameras “during the initiation” of all vehicle stops, suspect transports and pursuits or responses that require lights and sirens. But for pedestrian stops, the policy states, the cameras must be activated “when practicable.” The cameras turn on automatically whenever an officer activates a cruiser’s emergency lights. They also can be activated manually.

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