In the 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department earned its reputation as the face of police corruption in the War on Drugs era. Plagued by high-profile incidents like the Rodney King riots and the Rampart scandals, the department was eventually put under a federal consent decree. Since then, the LAPD has made progress repairing relationships with local communities, and violent crime is down considerably.
Now, with a national conversation centered around the Black Lives Matter movement and officer-involved shootings, often involving young black men, the LAPD has taken another major step forward. Starting this September, hundreds of LAPD officers will begin wearing body cameras while on patrol as part of a pilot program.
Advocates for the cameras say they will protect both police and citizens, while also building up trust between them. Similar pilot programs have already been launched in cities across America, including Chicago and New York City. In 2014, about 64% of U.S. adults owned smartphones, and citizens are increasingly using them to film confrontations with police. Several such videos have gone viral this summer, and some footage has even contradicted official police statements regarding violent incidents. In other cases, the viral videos have sparked protests and outrage.
So far, the LAPD is the largest police department in the country to commit to outfitting all patrol officers with the cameras. In total, that means about 7,000 officers will eventually use the devices. But for now, the body cameras will be limited to the 100 Mission Division officers in the San Fernando Valley. The cost of these cameras alone is $1.5 million; they were funded through private donations.
“[The program] will enhance accountability, build more trust with the communities we serve and give officers a cutting-edge tool in their efforts to keep Los Angeles safe,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement.
LAPD officials hope to have the rest of the cameras in place by the end of 2016.