Long Beach’s top cop wants body-worn cameras to go Police Department-wide, after seeing positive results during a one-year pilot program, the chief wrote in a memo to the city manager and City Council last month.
Police Chief Robert Luna, in his memo, recommended the council approve a five-year, $2 million contract with the current supplier of the pilot-program’s body cameras, Axon Enterprise, Inc. Doing so would see the Police Department deploy body-worn cameras to patrol officers across Long Beach.
The chief’s recommendation comes amid an increasing trend of police departments throughout the region and the country implementing — or at least considering — body cameras as a way to increase transparency and minimize legal risks, particularly when officers use force against suspects.
The deployment of body cameras in the North and South divisions, for the pilot program, “has been a step toward increased departmental transparency,” Luna said in his memo.
The Long Beach Police Officers’ Association did not return a request for comment.
That memo, dated April 19, provided the council and City Manager Pat West with an update on how the pilot program, which is set to end next month, is working. Last year, the city contracted with Axon to provide more than 200 body cameras to patrol officers in the North and South division; officers have worn the cameras since August.
“To date, the experience with this manufacturer has been positive,” he wrote, “and it is expected that an expanded deployment will be equally seamless.”
A department-wide deployment would consist of about 875 cameras, counting the ones currently in use, Luna said. The cameras would also go to contract service groups assigned to the airport, port, Long Beach Transit and City College.
More than half of the $2 million cost would cover 10 full-time positions. Those jobs would help handle the workload that stems from increased public records requests body-cameras create: responding to requests, and searching, reviewing and redacting records related to camera footage. Currently, two full-time employees deal with those requests, Luna wrote in his memo.
Recent state legislation requiring increased police transparency will also likely increase the number of public-records requests the department receives, he added.
Buying Axon’s equipment would cost another $718,000, the memo said, and $640,000 would go to infrastructure enhancements and overtime costs for training.
Still, Luna said in the memo, the data from the pilot program suggests “great success in capturing video of critical incidents and the program is fully expected to serve as a promising risk management tool.”
Prior to the pilot program with Axon, the department tested another manufacturer, beginning in November 2016, but chose to look at other options after the department experienced technical problems — including poor battery life and poor video quality — leading to two cases in which the cameras failed during police shootings.
A study showed, however, that officers in the West Division — who tested those body-worn cameras — used force less often and received fewer complaints during the pilot program, authorities said.
The City Council could consider the five-year contract with Axon when budget discussions begin in September. The council could also opt for a six-month extension of the pilot program to maintain program continuity. The current contract allows for three such extensions, Luna said.