- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Dozens of sheriff’s deputies at four stations in Los Angeles County are testing body cameras during a six-month pilot program, officials said Monday.

A total of 96 cameras are now being tested in Antelope Valley and in the harbor region. Deputies in the San Gabriel Valley and portions of South Los Angeles will begin testing by the end of the week, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.

Participation by deputies is voluntary, she said.

The department called cameras a useful, practical tool for enhancing public trust and generating video and audio evidence. A total of 35 cameras will go to deputies at the Lancaster-area station.

In 2013, the Justice Department concluded a two-year investigation that determined that Antelope Valley deputies in Lancaster and Palmdale discriminated against blacks and Latinos by making unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and using excessive force.

Nishida said the Lancaster station was selected because it is busy, not because of the Justice Department findings.

The department’s project director Chief Bob Denham said in a statement the department also is developing policies and a process to manage the thousands of hours of video data that will be collected each year.

Cameras are generally supported by law enforcement officials and civil libertarians. However, the policies that govern deployment often are a source of conflict.- Officers worry about Big Brother-style discipline and the public about privacy rights.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department released guidelines created after teaming with the Police Executive Research Forum. The 33 recommendations address community and police officer concerns.

“How long you hold on to the information, who has access (to the recording, and) the discretion to tape or not to tape” all become huge issues, said Chuck Wexler, who heads the nonprofit police research forum.

During the Sheriff’s Department pilot, deputies do not need to inform the public that they’re being recorded. They are prohibited from recording each other unless engaged in official enforcement activities, and are generally told to avoid recording victim and witness interviews.

There is also no limit for retaining recording - an issue that civil libertarians have identified as problematic.

Peter Bibring, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said the department also should be testing cameras in jails. The agency is on the verge of entering into a consent decree with the Justice Department for its management of the jails. Last year 18 deputies were indicted for alleged conduct that included beating and humiliating inmates.

“This agency has a history of excessive force in the jails where detainees have no ability to take videos of the incidents themselves,” Bibring said.

The Sheriff’s Department pilot program follows testing by the Los Angeles Police Department, which plans to roll out the cameras to 600 more officers next year.


Tami Abdollah can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/latams .

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