Cops on Camera: LAPD Edition

The L.A. Times has an article highlighting the twentieth anniversary of the Rodney King beating and how video of that event introduced the LAPD to modern citizen journalism.

Today, things are far different and the tape that so tainted the LAPD has a clear legacy in how officers think about their jobs. Police now work in a YouTube world in which cellphones double as cameras, news helicopters transmit close-up footage of unfolding police pursuits, and surveillance cameras capture arrests or shootings. Police officials are increasingly recording their officers. Compared to the cops who beat King, officers these days hit the streets with a new reality ingrained in their minds: Someone is always watching.

“Early on in their training, I always tell them, ‘I don’t care if you’re in a bathroom taking care of your personal business…. Whatever you do, assume it will be caught on video,’ ” said Sgt. Heather Fungaroli, who supervises recruits at the LAPD’s academy. “We tell them if they’re doing the right thing then they have no reason to worry.”

That’s progress, and as I’ve said before, a video camera is an honest cop’s best friend.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. The LAPD paid $1.7 million to a news camera operator injured by its officers at the 2007 May Day melee. LAPD officers have also been caught on camera assaulting a bicyclist and illegally detaining a man for taking photographs on a public sidewalk. You can track police intimidation of citizen journalists at Cop Block’s War on Cameras interactive map, patterned after Cato’s own Raidmap.

Here is the Cato video, Cops on Camera:

For more on cops and cameras, check out the event Cato hosted last year and Radley Balko’s feature at Reason, “The War on Cameras.”