DOWNTOWN LA-Just when I started to conclude wrapping my head around the $1.442 billion dollars the Los Angeles Police Department is receiving this fiscal year alone (July 2015- June 30, 2016), a report comes out about how the LAPD is requesting another $57.6 million dollars over the next 5 years for the highly-touted body camera system.
While it’s not clear what $1.5 billion in taxpayer money gets us Angelenos in one funding cycle, it’s quite shocking to hear of such a huge price tag for 7,000 body cameras, replacements, upgrades and video storage -- especially when the public doesn’t get access to any video footage unless the LAPD allows us to see it.
And thanks to recent decisions by the Los Angeles Police Commission, all aspects of the body camera system will be totally controlled by LAPD, even when there’s suspicion of LAPD wrongdoing.
For example, on March , 2015, the LAPD shot and killed Chary Keunang in Skid Row. Keunang, also known as “Africa” or “Brotha Africa”, was shot by police officers in broad daylight. Cell phone footage taken by a Skid Row resident went viral. Of the five officers who were on scene, three wore body cameras as part of a select group who were testing various types of body camera systems before LAPD decided on their final choice. Nine months have gone by and LAPD still hasn’t revealed any of the footage to the public.
While some say, “We saw the video that went viral and there’s nothing more to see,” activists and LAPD watchdog groups say something different. A GQ Magazine article by a writer who covered the story stated that he viewed some of the body camera footage for his story and also obtained access to the autopsy. It was revealed that there were two muzzle shots, (also known as flesh shots where the barrel of the gun is placed directly against the flesh when the trigger is pulled,) one hitting Keunang in the chest and the other hitting him in the heart.
Of the three body cameras, the flesh shots (which weren’t seen on the video that went viral and also is against LAPD policy) may have been recorded. What also may be on the body camera footage is the audio of the discussion between officers who decided to move the body, along with the possible accompanying video. While it was first reported by LAPD that Keunang died on the way to the hospital, it was later discovered through the autopsy’s confirmed “kill shots” that Keunang, in fact, died at the scene, thus making that sidewalk an active crime scene which led to a person’s death. In this instance, moving the body contaminates an active crime scene and is also against LAPD protocol. Body camera footage may show what officers were doing during this time frame and who played what role in said contamination.
Earlier this summer, the LAPD Police Commission approved LAPD’s request to allow officers to review the body camera footage before they fill out their OIS (officer-involved shooting) reports. This means officers have total access and control of this system -- while the taxpayers pay for it.
The activist in me wonders, “Didn’t LAPD just ask for tens of millions of dollars for additional funding for mental health training for all its officers?” Then the inner accountant in me thinks, “Why do they need additional funding when they already get $1.5 billion this pay period? Other City services will have to take a funding cut in order to pay for this flawed body camera system. We’re not getting the bang for our buck.” While my inner accountant may be right, the City is only one vote away from making this nightmare a reality.
So the next time I’m stuck in evening rush-hour traffic, damaging my car on every pothole in the street, counting all the loose dogs and broken street lights, passing water main breaks when the rain causes flooding and clogged storm drains, I won’t give myself aggravated road rage by complaining profusely or waste my time calling 3-1-1. I’ll just remind myself that all the money needed for these needs – as well as other City services and infrastructure funding -- was repurposed to fund LAPD’s “obsolete-before-it-begins” body camera system.
And for about $1.6 billion dollars total, no one in the general public will ever see it, let alone benefit from it. Wow.
(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 102
Pub: Dec 18, 2015