A Los Angeles City Council committee voted 2 to 0 Monday to experiment with installing video cameras in police cars to see if their presence effects the behavior of suspects and officers or helps provide evidence.
The vote by the Public Safety Committee came after Los Angeles Police Commissioner Art Mattox told the panel that the prospect of having their actions videotaped “could preclude bad behavior” either by suspects or officers.
The Christopher Commission, which reviewed department practices in the wake of the beating of Rodney G. King two years ago, also recommended that the cameras be used.
Under consideration Monday was a pilot program to affix cameras to seven patrol cars for three months. “We want to basically see what happens,” said LAPD Lt. Dan Koenig of the experiment.
Videos have been most effectively used by Highway Patrol officers who conduct many of their investigations in the front of their cars, Koenig said. LAPD officers, however, frequently leave their vehicles to enter homes or buildings, and the pilot program does not envision officers leaving the cars with the cameras, he said.
Councilman Marvin Braude, the committee’s chairman, backed the plan, saying the LAPD should be using cutting-edge technology whenever it can.
“Lord knows, from the Rodney King episode we can see the potential” of videotapes, Braude said, referring to the famous videotape footage filmed by a bystander that was later used to convict two LAPD officers of illegally beating King.
The graphically recorded King beating helped spark major efforts to reform LAPD policies and practices.
In July, a Foothill Division officer mounted his personal video camera in his squad car and subsequently captured his arrest of suspects in a gang rape in Pacoima. Capt. Tim McBride, Foothill commander, said the department was not aware that Officer John Smith had put the camera in his car but applauded his initiative.
Smith’s videotape is now being used as evidence in the case against the rape suspects.