In an April 19 memo to City Manager Patrick West and the members of the Long Beach City Council, Police Chief Robert Luna recommended the adoption of body worn cameras (BWCs) for the entire Long Beach Police Department (LBPD). Currently, more than 200 body cameras are in use for the north and south divisions of LBPD as part of a one-year pilot program with BWC manufacturer Axon Enterprise. A full deployment would include 875 BWCs across all the department’s divisions, as well as security at Long Beach Airport, Long Beach Transit and Long Beach City College.
Luna’s recommendation to adopt Axon BWCs followed more than two years of pilot projects using different BWC equipment, first with models developed by Utility Inc. and then Axon. Luna noted in his memo that LBPD’s experience with Axon during the limited pilot phase was positive. “It is expected that an expanded deployment will be equally seamless,” he wrote.
The city council is anticipated to adopt the Fiscal Year 2020 budget this September, which could potentially include funding for a full deployment of BWCs, a spokesperson for LBPD told the Business Journal. If funding for the full program cannot be obtained in FY 2020, Luna requested a six-month extension of the pilot “to maintain program continuity.” Axon’s contract with the City of Long Beach includes options for three such extensions.
If the city council votes to approve a five-year service contract with Axon for full deployment, Luna estimated that initial costs would include $718,000 to purchase the company’s equipment and $640,000 for “infrastructure enhancements and training.” Annual costs could total $2 million, approximately half of which would be used to hire 10 permanent, full-time positions. “The additional personnel are required to offset impacts to staff operations spent responding to requests, searching, reviewing and redacting records pertaining to BWC footage,” Luna explained. These duties are currently handled by two full-time employees that have struggled to keep up with the workload, he went on.
Recent legislation to expand police transparency has contributed to an increase in the number of requests to LBPD for records, Luna stated in his memo. In particular, Assembly Bill 748 requires that, as of July 1, body cam footage “related to critical incidents” be made publicly available within 45 days of a Public Records Act request. The anticipated growth in public record requests after July “will easily exceed the current staffing capabilities of the department,” Luna said, with failure to comply resulting in legal liability and a blow to LBPD’s community standing.
The chief of police concluded his memo by stating that BWC deployment during the Axon pilot program has “enhanced support for the safety of our residents and employees” and “is fully expected to serve as a promising risk management tool.”