The same device that stung the Los Angeles Police Department two years ago in the beating of Rodney G. King--the video camera--will soon become a law enforcement aid in dozens of city police cars.
Mayor Richard Riordan and Chief Willie L. Williams will announce today that private funding will greatly expand the LAPD's experimental use of video cameras, a plan the Police Commission and City Council approved last month after long delays.
The two bodies approved a $68,000 pilot project that would install seven cameras for three months to test their cost and usefulness. Riordan intends to enhance the program by installing an additional 36 cameras, which will remain in squad cars indefinitely. One camera was donated by CMI/MPH Companies and the 35 others were given by the DARE America organization, which purchased them at reduced rates.
The department is still a long way from being able to place a camera in every car, which officials estimate would cost millions of dollars. Police officers also have asked for permission to use audio recorders to tape their on-duty conversations, excluding phone calls. The department is drafting guidelines that would allow for the use of audio recorders under certain conditions, provided that the officer's supervisor agrees.
The Christopher Commission, which reviewed LAPD practices after the King beating, recommended the installation of cameras as a way to control the behavior of both arresting officers and suspects.
It was a videotape shot by George Holliday on the night of March 3, 1991, that captured King's beating in Lake View Terrace and prompted an outcry around the world.
Since then, city and police officials have embraced the idea of installing cameras in a limited number of cars. But the plan has been delayed by the city's budget woes.
Former Chief Daryl F. Gates approved a 22-camera pilot project in 1992 that would have given a camera to each patrol and traffic division. Chief Williams scaled that back to seven cameras, which will be divided among four geographic divisions, two traffic divisions and the elite Metropolitan division.
The in-car cameras, produced by more than a dozen manufacturers, are widely employed by police departments across the country.
CMI/MPH, a Kentucky-based company that will install the 36 cameras and train officers in their use, has provided equipment to 400 police agencies in the United States and Canada. Company officials say the cameras help to quickly resolve citizen complaints against police officers and serve as important in-house training tools.
The LAPD has already had one good experience with the cameras.
In July, a Foothill division officer mounted his own video camera in his squad car and captured his arrest of suspects in a gang rape in Pacoima.
Capt. Tim McBride, Foothill's commander, said the department was not aware that Officer John Smith had installed the camera but applauded his initiative. The tape is being used as evidence in the case against the rape suspects.
One factor that adds to the cost of the video program, officials said, is that all tapes are saved for at least 10 years for evidentiary purposes. LAPD officials are exploring ways to limit that storage time in order to save money.