The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) is planning to issue a request for proposals for new body-worn camera devices for officers after testing two models that the department determined to be insufficient, according to a press release from the LBPD.
In January 2016, The Long Beach City Council settled on a $210,000-contract with Utility Inc.– a Georgia-based manufacturer of software products for law-enforcement agencies– to purchase cameras, modems, software, cloud storage, training and technical support.
In November 2016, West Division LBPD patrol officers and supervisors who were deployed on afternoon shifts underwent a pilot program. They were given 40 body-worn cameras (BWCs) to wear while they worked.
The pilot program concluded in November 2017, and officers continued to utilize the BWCs in the field as the results of the program were evaluated, according to the press release.
In February 2018, Utility Inc. provided the LBPD with the opportunity to test and evaluate a new model of BWCs, which was loaned to the City at no additional cost.
After a comprehensive review of both camera models, the LBPD determined that “while the department believes strongly in the overall value of body-worn cameras, the technology type currently being tested does not suitably meet the needs of the department and the City,” according to an email from LBPD Public Information Officer Nancy Pratt.
When asked what specifically the department did not like about the cameras in the pilot program, Pratt said the LBPD could not release information on that because the BWC program is still under evaluation, and that it would “be premature for us to release our findings at this time.”
However, Pratt said that all BWCs currently in the field fall under the pilot program and record footage at 720p-video quality resolution.
The Signal Tribune attempted to contact Utility Inc. about the BWC devices multiple times, but they could not be reached within press time.
LBPD Chief Robert Luna stated in the press release that, “the City and the LBPD are committed to implementing effective body-worn camera technology to promote officer safety, ensure accountability and strengthen community trust.”
According to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a field experiment on body-worn cameras by the Rialto Police Department in California found that when police officers were equipped with cameras during the test period, use-of-force incidents and citizen complaints against officers were reduced by 50 and 90 percent, respectively. Their findings spurred national interest in the benefits body-worn cameras could potentially provide.
In September 2017, a randomized controlled trial study– involving more than 400 police officers in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department– by the CNA nonprofit research group found that BWC-wearing officers generated significantly fewer complaints and use-of-force reports relative to control officers without cameras.
BWC-wearing officers also made more arrests and issued more citations than those not wearing BWCs.
Signal Hill Police Department Lieutenant Ronald Sagmit said that the department also has a BWC program. The SHPD uses cameras manufactured by WatchGuard.
“We believe we were the first agency to deploy body-worn cameras for all field personnel,” Sagmit said. “The BWCs have been in use at the SHPD for about 2 and a half years.”
Along with choosing the best BWC devices for its officers, police department officials must also implement best-practice procedures to determine what happens to any recorded footage the BWCs capture.
In California, Section 832.18 of Assembly Bill 1953 provides police departments with steps to ensure data collected from a BWC is handled properly, according to leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.
“In accordance with department policy, officers may review their recordings,” Pratt said. “Detectives may review recordings when relevant to their investigations. All public requests for digital evidence are handled in accordance with the California Public Records Act.”
According to an online file of the LBPD manual– which, according to the document, was last revised on June 2, 2016– all digital evidence collected using a BWC is considered property of the LBPD and is for official use only.
“Accessing, copying, forwarding or releasing any digital evidence for other than official police department use is prohibited,” the manual reads. “Personal computer equipment and software programs shall not be used to make copies of digital evidence. Exceptions may be made when done for training purposes and with supervisor approval.”
The manual also states that, unless a “mitigating circumstance” is present, officers using a BWC may record interactions such as traffic stops, detentions, arrests, searches, crimes in progress, demonstrations, protests and unlawful assemblies.
As police officers continue to use BWCs under the pilot program, Pratt said that the City has not selected a company to contract with for new BWC, however, it intends to review all qualified proposers that meet the specifications included in the new request for proposal document.
A press release in November 2016 first announced the commencement of the LBPD’s BWC program.
“Our goal with the body-worn camera program is to help enhance community trust and underscore law-enforcement legitimacy and accountability,” Luna states in the press release, “The use of this video technology can provide additional documentation of interactions between the community and the officers serving it.”