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LAPD tries to answer City Hall's lingering questions about buying body cameras

The Los Angeles Police Department gave city council members more information Tuesday in an effort to answer lingering questions that have delayed a vote crucial to an ambitious initiative to equip thousands of officers with body cameras. 

Department officials formally gave City Hall the information after the Police Commission approved a 29-page report outlining how the specific cameras were selected and the staffing that would be dedicated to the program.

Two city committees will consider the LAPD's response, and financial officials will prepare their own supplemental report. One LAPD official estimated the full City Council could vote on the body camera initiative in about four weeks.

Council members were slated to vote in December on a five-year, $57.6-million plan to complete the 7,000-camera roll out, but delayed the decision after several council members expressed concerns.

In a statement read at Tuesday's meeting, Police Commission President Matt Johnson described the project as an "essential next step" toward building public trust and keeping the city safe.

"There is no question about the need to move forward," Johnson said in the statement. "I am confident that the City Council shares our vision for a more effective LAPD."

The 10,000-officer department is one of scores of agencies across the country looking to expand the use of body cameras in the wake of several high-profile killings by officers that generated greater public scrutiny of policing.

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The department has already purchased about 860 cameras through privately raised funds, an effort Mayor Eric Garcetti vastly expanded in 2014 by announcing the city would buy roughly 6,000 additional devices, making the LAPD rollout the most extensive in the nation.

But City Hall hit the brakes in December after lawmakers expressed concerns over the project's price tag, the number of LAPD personnel dedicated to the program and the process by which department officials determined they wanted to buy the cameras from Taser. 

LAPD officials have said they looked to "piggyback" off a competitive search used by another agency to save time and avoid the type of contentious, time-consuming bidding fights that have delayed other city efforts.

The department, with the approval of the city attorney, decided to piggyback on Kern County's bidding process, which included specifications that were "substantially similar to those of the LAPD," according to the new report. The department was also able to negotiate a cheaper price for the cameras, the report said -- $99 per camera, compared to $399 in Kern County.

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Other, smaller vendors have criticized the department's choice and piggybacking process, saying they were unfairly passed over despite having body cameras that could work for the LAPD.

The LAPD's report said that although "many new vendors" have emerged after the 2014 high-profile police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., "the majority of those solutions did not meet" the LAPD's needs. Some of the devices, the report said, did not have the desired 12-hour battery life or would have required specialized software for the LAPD or prosecutors to view the footage.

"The LAPD cannot afford to be the guinea pig for solutions that have not been proven in the law enforcement field, and, in particular, proven in a large-scale deployment," the report said.

Department officials estimated they would assign nearly 110 sworn officers and civilian staffers to tackle the "large size and scope" of the LAPD's body and in-car camera programs. Dedicated personnel will be needed to review the footage for a range of investigations and audits, the report said.

The number of videos generated by the cameras so far has been "significant," the report said. Between August and December, four LAPD divisions that already have body cameras generated more than a quarter-million recordings.

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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