LAPD gets $1 million for body cameras from Department of Justice

LAPD Officer Jim Stover demonstrates the Police Department's body cameras at Mission Division.

LAPD Officer Jim Stover demonstrates the Police Department’s body cameras at Mission Division.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Police Department was awarded $1 million in federal funds Monday to help buy more body cameras, part of about $20 million being distributed to dozens of agencies across the country to help spread the technology.

The money from the U.S. Department of Justice will cover about 700 body cameras for the LAPD, a police spokesman said.

L.A. has drawn headlines in recent months for its plan to put a body camera on every officer who works in the field. Smaller agencies use body cameras and bigger agencies are testing them out, but the LAPD is poised to become the largest in the country to deploy the devices on a large scale.


“This is great news for Los Angeles,” Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, said about the federal funding. “These 700 cameras will help move us forward to our goal.”

The city has plans to buy about 7,000 body cameras, using money from city coffers but also outside grants. About 860 cameras were already purchased with private donations and are now being rolled out to some divisions.

As the heated national debate over policing continues, more agencies are exploring the use of body cameras as a way to help build public trust in policing. Advocates say the devices can help bring clarity to controversial encounters, guard against officer misconduct and clear those falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Last year, President Obama earmarked federal funds to help local police agencies purchase the devices, part of his efforts to strengthen fraught relationships between police and communities after a series of high-profile killings by officers.

The LAPD was one of 285 agencies to request funding, according to the Department of Justice. Only 73 agencies received awards, ranging from $9,523 allocated to the 9,500-person Wilkinson County in Georgia, to the $1 million given to the LAPD and five other agencies.

Steve Soboroff, vice president of the Los Angeles Police Commission who spearheaded efforts to bring body cameras to the LAPD, had a three-word comment after Monday’s announcement.


“Proud and thankful!” he wrote.

But not everyone was glad to see the LAPD on the list.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union sent the Department of Justice a letter urging the department not to give the LAPD money for body cameras. The 11-page letter was the latest in which the civil liberties organization voiced its concerns over the LAPD’s use of the cameras -- specifically, the decision not to release the footage unless required in court.

“We believe that the LAPD’s policy does not promote — and in fact undermines — the goals of transparency, accountability and creation of public trust that body-worn cameras should serve,” senior staff attorney Peter Bibring wrote to the Department of Justice.

On Monday, the executive director of the ACLU’s Southern California chapter said the group was “extremely disappointed” by the Department of Justice’s decision.

“The Justice Department announced funding for body camera programs as a means to help increase transparency and build public trust,” Hector Villagra said in a statement. “Yet it has chosen to fund a department with body camera policies that are at odds with those goals and instead maintain secrecy and sow distrust.”

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.