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Police Commission: LAPD Cops should be able to review body cam video before reports

After a testy debate about how best to monitor officer behavior, the Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday voted 3-1 to approve Chief Charlie Beck's policy requiring officers to turn on body cameras during all stops - but also allows cops to view the video before writing their reports.

He said the policy will help him get buy-in from the force.

“You want officers to have faith in the system," he said. "You want officers to believe the system is fair to them."

Beck said the body camera video will not be made available to the public.

The policy passed despite arguments by Commissioner Robert Saltzman, who wanted officers to describe why they shot or struck someone before seeing video, to ease the public's distrust of police. The Oakland Police Department requires officers to provide statements before looking at video.

“The perception - which I think is inaccurate but is widespread - is that officers are not always honest,” Saltzman said. “Given that perception, it would make more sense to bend over backwards to reassure a skeptical public by having the officer give a preliminary statement prior to viewing the video.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has argued forcing officers to provide an account before looking at video will prevent them from lying and changing their story based on what was or wasn't captured on tape.

Beck dismissed those arguments during Tuesday's meeting.

“The officers cannot alter the video,” he told the commission. “If they commit misconduct, if they have an out of policy use of force, the video will show that.”

He also said LAPD investigators will have the option to deny cops from watching the video when they believe an officer may have committed a crime.

Saltzman had another argument for waiting: he said LAPD investigators looking into the officer's actions would be more likely to find out what danger he or she perceived by obtaining a statement before they look at the video.

“I find it quite frustrating that the policy does not speak to these issues,” he said.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff pushed back: “I think you are articulately stating one extreme side of this argument.”

Soboroff agreed with Beck's argument that watching the video would help officers provide an accurate account of what happened.

The new LAPD police requires officers to turn on their cameras under a broad array of circumstances, including all pedestrian stops, traffic stops, foot pursuits, witness and victim interviews, crowd management and calls for service.

LAPD Inspector General Alex Bustamante praised the policy.

“I want them on and I want them on at the earlier possible point,” he said.

The policy allows for officers to keep cameras off during sensitive situations, including "because of the victim or witness's physical condition, emotional state, age or other sensitive circumstances (e.g., a victim of rape, incest, or other form of sexual assault.)"

Beck said the video is considered digital evidence and will generally not be available to the public unless presented in court.

“As a general rule we have not released this type of information,” said Beck, noting he’s never released video from cameras mounted inside patrol cars.

The proposed policy was only Friday, which Saltzman said didn't give the public and commissioners enough time to review it.

“My frustration is that we should have had at least one hearing on the draft,” he said. Saltzman was the lone ‘no’ vote.