Cameras on cop cars would be invaluable
by Sergeant Sunil Dutta

EDITOR'S NOTE: LACP has long advocated video technology being used on LAPD's patrol vehicles, and has spoken on several occasions about this to the Police Commission. We're happy to post this article by LAPD Sergeant Sunil Dutta. It first appeared in the Daily News on December 13, 2005.

Cameras on cop cars would be invaluable
by Sunil Dutta, Guest Columnist
LA Daily News, December 13, 2005

Although a plan to put video cameras in all Los Angles Police Department patrol cars would cost an estimated $25 million, it would be worth every penny.

The returns would be incalculable in reduced city liability, transparency, enhanced police-community relations and a great boost in morale for officers. That, in turn, would lead to higher productivity, fewer complaints and a better working environment.

Those who call the idea expensive are missing the forest for the trees.

During the last decade, the city has paid almost $100 million in legal settlements in civil cases involving police misconduct. The allegations of abuse that fuel these lawsuits could be ended by ensuring that all LAPD contacts with citizens be recorded, including all traffic stops. In the current policing climate - in which officers are wary of being falsely accused of racial profiling, planting evidence and using excessive force - most would be more than happy to use the cameras.

The immediate benefits of making video recordings would be to stop the criminal cops in their tracks, as their actions would be documented. Likewise, offending officers' rude behavior and misconduct would come to an end.

But there are also other tangible benefits. Numerous field supervisors and Internal Affairs investigators who must investigate thousands of frivolous complaints of the "he said, she said" variety would be freed up. Bringing these supervisors to the field would further help the officers who need supervision and training, thus making them better officers.

The majority of hard-working and professional officers would also benefit tremendously. All the false lawsuits and allegations made by criminals against them ("he called me names," "he stole my money," "he hit me with a baton for no reason," "he planted dope on me," etc.) could be instantly dismissed. Investigations of complaints against the officers involve numerous resources, which could be freed up.

Furthermore, the city would not have to pay millions of dollars to innocent people violated by criminal cops. (Imagine if Rafael Perez had to record all of his interactions with the community). The city attorney would not have to settle civil suits resulting in payola to the criminals and their defense lawyers because no eyewitnesses are available to corroborate officers' statements.

The city and the department would also gain tremendously by creating an image of openness, thus silencing the critics who have accused the LAPD of obstructionism and perpetuating a code of silence. Demagogues like Najee Ali and Tony Mohammed would be out of their jobs.

Sometimes the distrust between civilians and officers is based simply on perception. Cameras could help in this case, too. If an officer could play the recording of a traffic stop and show the violator that he or she indeed made an infraction, the people would be more trusting of the police, instead of considering them as adversaries.

Additionally, the criminal justice system would save in enormous investigative costs when a video recording lays down a clear case that the officers had a probable cause and obtained all the evidence properly. This would lead to admission of guilt by the criminals, saving us long and costly court proceedings.

In fact, taking into account that a single liability settlement involving police misconduct can reach as high as $15 million, the cost of the whole program would return enormous dividends by saving the city tens of millions of dollars every year.

The police union has come aboard, and community activists are also supporting cameras in police cars. It is time for the City Council to show leadership and bring this overdue idea to fruition.

Sunil Dutta is a sergeant II in the Los Angeles Police Department.