The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) issued a request for proposals (RFP) on April 3 to continue its body-worn camera pilot program utilizing a different vendor and camera model.
“The city and the LBPD are committed to implementing effective body worn camera technology to promote officer safety, ensure accountability and strengthen community trust,” Police Chief Robert Luna said in a press release. However, the announcement stated that, after reviewing its previous year-long pilot program, the LBPD determined “the current technology does not suitably meet the needs of the department and the city.”
Third District Councilmember Suzie Price has been a champion of bringing police body-worn cameras to Long Beach and said the city is long overdue for the implementation of such a program. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson)
In a memo to the city council, the LBPD said the additional equipment field testing is expected to begin by July. The program will include 160 officers in two patrol divisions, a 400% increase over the original pilot program. The new contract will be for a 12-month period with the option to extend the term by three six-month extensions, according to the RFP.
The original program began in November 2016 with 40 patrol officers and supervisors in the West Patrol Division utilizing equipment and services from Georgia-based Utility Associates Inc. in partnership with Dell Inc., for $210,000. The initial pilot concluded in November of last year, though officers continued wearing the cameras. In February, Utility Inc. provided the department a new model of body-worn camera to field-test at no additional cost to the city.
According to an LBPD presentation to the Long Beach City Council Public Safety Committee, chaired by 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price, the pilot program resulted in a 62% reduction of complaints and a 14% reduction in use of force for officers wearing cameras. Overall, the pilot division received 56% fewer complaints and saw a 31% reduction in use of force.
“There is a new method of policing, there is another layer of protection for the public, as well as police officers,” Price said in an interview prior to LBPD’s announcement. “At some point the experts and our police department need to put their heads together and figure out how to make this happen because, in my opinion, it’s happening a lot later than I wish it would have happened.”
Five out of 12 comparable police departments examined by the LBPD currently have full implementation of a body-worn camera program, which requires additional staff for operations such as video review. Each of those five departments use Axon equipment and services – Anaheim utilizes 450 cameras requiring three full-time equivalent employees (FTEs); Fullerton uses 150 cameras requiring two FTEs; the Los Angeles Police Department uses 4,000 cameras requiring 24 FTEs; Pasadena uses 300 cameras requiring three FTEs; and Santa Ana uses 200 cameras requiring five FTEs.
Of the 10 comparable departments that have used some form of body-worn camera for testing in a pilot program or in a fully implemented program, Torrance is the only one that operated Utility/Dell equipment and services. Torrance conducted a pilot program similar to Long Beach.
Prior to prosecuting murder cases on the homicide panel for the District Attorney in Orange County, Price worked as a public entity lawyer representing 17 cities throughout Orange County. She said many of those cities have utilized Axon body-worn cameras for years and her experience with the product has been positive.
“I think we’re ready now and we should implement them now. Very few technologies are foolproof and very few of them guarantee no malfunctions,” Price said. “I’ve tried over 100 jury trials and . . . the mini tape recorders they used back in the day would malfunction all the time. It happens . . . but the jury still gets the opportunity to look at things in the totality.”
“This isn’t the type of technology that hasn’t been tested. This is a video recording. It’s not like a new science,” she added.
Since the topic of body-worn cameras was brought to Long Beach, Price – an outspoken advocate for bringing the program to the city – noted the police department has always been hesitant or apprehensive toward its implementation. She said the concerns have often been focused on financial and operational challenges. However, pulling from her career as an attorney, Price said a body-worn camera program, ideally, could end up paying for itself by lessening the number of lawsuits brought against the city.
When a lawsuit is filed against a city in cases such as excessive force by an officer or a police-involved shooting, Price explained that cities often settle early in the proceedings regardless of the validity of the suit because it is the best financial decision. She said going to court and going through a “he said, she said” trial with no substantial evidence such as video footage could end up costing cities far more than an initial settlement. However, if video footage is available, lawsuits are often dropped.
“I think it potentially could save us millions of dollars and really pay for itself in terms of a program,” Price said. “I mean, if we’re looking at a $1 million addition to our annual budget to run these operations, we pay out a lot more than that in lawsuits simply because there is so much unknown regarding what happened in a situation.”
When all pilot programs are completed, Price is confident that the city council will vote to move forward with full implementation. While she would like to see the full program rolled out at once, she admitted that a phased-in approach is probably more likely and that this method has certain financial and operational benefits. With a phased-in approach, Price noted that the full cost would not be felt immediately, which is beneficial during a time of looming budget cuts. Additionally, she said phasing in the program would allow for operational efficiencies to be established and built upon.
Following the LBPD’s announcement of continued exploration of equipment and service providers, Price gave the Business Journal the following statement: “I knew the department was interested in exploring other options [besides] what we had used in the pilot. I didn’t know the specifics that were announced [last] week. I completely agree with the decision. The current arrangement was not the best suited for our department and our needs. I think it’s prudent to explore our options and accelerate the process at this point. I’ll be involved in the process and watching the progress closely as chair of the public safety committee. It’s time to get on board with body cameras in Long Beach. A brief delay to find the best industry partner and to identity funding for the operational aspects of the project is acceptable. Anything beyond a reasonable delay is not acceptable at this point. It’s time.”