Top Los Angeles police officials Tuesday publicly apologized to their civilian bosses for not promptly alerting them that officers had tampered with recording equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and several top aides promised to monitor the problem more closely and vowed to be better about notifying the five-member police commission about such issues in the future.
“It is on us,” Beck said at the commission’s weekly meeting. “We will take whatever actions are needed to make sure” similar mistakes are not made again.
Beck was joined by an assistant chief and two deputy chiefs, all of whom assured commissioners the department was committed to keeping tabs on its officers’ conduct. They said they had not intentionally kept the oversight board in the dark.
“Did we fall short?” Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said. “I think the simple answer is, ‘Yes.’”
Paysinger told commissioners his presence at the hearing, along with Deputy Chiefs Rick Jacobs and Bob Green, was “an exclamation point on how important this whole question of digital in-car video and also other accountability technologies are to the department.”
The hearing culminated weeks of growing discontent among commissioners since they learned of officers’ attempts to avoid being recorded in the field.
In July, an inspection by LAPD investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing small antennas that are part of video cameras and help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed.
Beck eventually told commission President Steve Soboroff about the missing antennas a few months after the inspection and assured him the problem was resolved, Soboroff has said. But it was not until February that the full commission learned of the problem when it was reviewing a shooting investigation and noticed the poor quality of several cars’ audio recordings.
Since 2010, when the video technology was first put into use, LAPD officials have touted it as a cornerstone in their efforts to guard against racial profiling and other abuses by officers. The camera program helped persuade federal authorities the department was capable of monitoring itself after years of close oversight by the Justice Department.
At the hearing, Beck and the others stood by their decision not to investigate which officers were responsible for the tampering.
They reiterated their reasoning that because hundreds of officers have used the cars in Southeast in the years since the cameras were installed, it would have been futile to try to identify the culprits. Undercover stings and other surveillance options were considered but ultimately dismissed as options, the officials added.
Under questioning by commissioners, Paysinger and Green outlined the safeguards the department put in place after the antennas were discovered missing.
Officers are now required to document that the two antennas in each car are in place at the beginning and end of each shift. To guard against officers removing the antennas during their shifts, supervisors are expected to make unannounced checks on cars.
The discovery of the officers’ deception has taken on added significance in light of plans to expand the camera program to hundreds of more cars this year, as well as the department’s recent decision to outfit officers with on-body cameras.