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Board will hire consultant for deputy body cameras

City News Service | 8/10/2018, midnight

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted this week to hire a consultant to work out the details of outfitting deputies with body-worn cameras, with the sheriff’s department and a watchdog agency at odds about how much it will cost and how long it will take.

“We are a little late to the party,’’ Supervisor Kathryn Barger said, echoing comments by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, who co-authored the unanimously approved motion and pointed out that two-thirds of law enforcement agencies nationwide deploy body cameras or are implementing plans to use them.

“It’s time that the county of Los Angeles find its way into contemporary law enforcement methodologies,’’ Ridley-Thomas said.

Solis said the use of camera footage had been found effective in reducing the number of civilian complaints and in de-escalating confrontations between law enforcement and the public.

“Fundamentally, the goal would be to increase transparency,’’ she said.

A pilot program was initiated in 2014, but plans for rolling out body cameras to all deputies seemed to stall under the weight of questions about when and how to release recordings to deputies and the public, as well as how to pay for storing and managing extensive amounts of data.

In the interim, the Los Angeles Police Department moved forward with its own program. Though it initially kept recordings for internal use, the LAPD revised its policy in March to require public release of video from “critical incidents,’’ such as police shootings, within 45 days.

In the recent shootout at Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake -- where store assistant manager Melyda Corado was killed by an LAPD bullet during an exchange of gunfire between police and a man suspected of shooting two other people – LAPD Chief Michel Moore released bodycam video three days later.

Board members cited that decision as key to helping the public understand what really happened.

Inspector General Max Huntsman, whose team investigates deputy shootings and claims of excessive force, said video is critical both in protecting the public and vindicating law enforcement officers doing their job.

“If you don’t have video, you don’t know what happened,’’ Huntsman said, telling the board that cameras would give officials “the ability to supervise the men with guns who we give the power of life and death over us in the streets. It has to be that way. We need them out there.’’

Supervisor Janice Hahn said she was committed to that goal, but wondered aloud, “I’m not sure how we’re going to find that money.’’

A 2017 report by the county CEO put the cost of deploying 6,000-plus cameras at $84 million and said it would require hiring 302 people, 239 of whom would work for the sheriff’s department. Huntsman said the LAPD had managed to implement a less costly version and added that a consultant could help the board decide whether a “Cadillac’’ plan was required.