Editor’s note: This is a two-part series exploring the reasons the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t have BWC (body worn cameras) and the process for getting them.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has come under public scrutiny recently, as a result of deputy-involved shootings within the county.
At least three of those shootings occurred in the Antelope Valley. The first one, which occurred in May on Avenue K in Lancaster, involved an unidentified man who allegedly had a weapon. The second involved Michael Thomas who allegedly grabbed for a deputy’s gun, after they responded to a domestic violence call at his Lancaster home on June 11. The third was on June 17, in Rosamond, when Terron Jammal Boone, the half-brother of Robert Fuller, was shot and killed by deputies who were looking for a suspect involved in kidnapping, spousal assault and assault with a deadly weapon. Once pulled over, Boone allegedly opened the door of the vehicle in which he was riding and began firing at deputies, who returned fire.
Protesters have spoken out about deputy-involved shootings and have asked for accountability. One of the main questions is whether there is video from body worn cameras, that can help investigators put the pieces together. The answer to that is simple: No.
Recently, LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been vocal about his thoughts on why his department doesn’t have BWC, oftentimes lashing out on social media at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
In a tweet posted on June 21, he said: “Facts don’t lie @mridleythomas, you alone authored a motion to delay the body worn camera (BWC) project by six months. You also sold out undocumented inmates to the Trump administration for $13.7 million from 2014-2018. Care to explain?”
The following day, he tweeted about the BWCs again:
“@LASDHQ has received numerous inquiries on why we do not have body worn cameras (BWC). It is a campaign promise of mine, hindered by numerous bureaucratic processes ...”
He then lists a link that contains documents regarding his response to the Office of Inspector General’s third report back on implementing Body Worn Cameras in Los Angeles County.
On June 25, he tweeted: “Supervisor @kathrynbarger, you owe @CountyofLA residents $30M for body worn cameras. Please post the transaction publicly tomorrow, no strings and no excuses. The world is watching.”
He then tags the other Supervisors, the LA County CEO, LA County ISD and Dave Lopez at CBS-LA.
Getting BWC for the nation’s largest sheriff’s department was one of Villanueva’s campaign promises. He said during his first week in office, he presented the idea to the Board, but he has been met with resistance and “feet dragging,” ever since.
Villanueva said he wants nothing more than to equip his rank and file with BWC, but because of Supervisors “playing politics,” he’s unable to get the equipment they need. He claims they have slowed down the process because it’s part of their plan to increase public distrust in the department, but now that plan has backfired.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I’m 19 months into office and still don’t have a single camera deployed. The county controls my budget, they control procurement processes, they control everything through the Internal Services Department.”
He said they are in negotiations with an approved BWC vendor, but said it’s been “painstaking.”
Despite being the largest sheriff’s department in the world, with approximately 18,000 employees, they are one of the law enforcement agencies that does not have BWC. It’s something that was explored in 2016 under a pilot program under former sheriff James McDonnell, who was in office from 2014 to 2018.
A document dated Oct. 10, 2017, from Chief Executive Officer Sachi A. Hamaj, addressed to the Board of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger, states the Board directed Hamai to prepare a “budget proposal in support of the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) plan prepared by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and report back to the Board in 120 days. The LASD and CEO were given an extension to complete their BWC plan to further evaluate policy issues, which would impact staffing and the proposed budget.”
The departments were asked to identify one-time and ongoing resource requirements for the implementation, deployment and support of the BWC plan. That included the BWC system and staffing plan.
At the time, the LASD proposed a phased rollout process, starting at six stations identified as the highest areas of risk and inclusion of at least one station from each Supervisorial District, according to the document. The plan also considers the long-term implications for the justice system in that recordings would be utilized in criminal proceedings, administrative investigations, service complaints and civil liability claims.
The budget proposals were considered preliminary and would require an ongoing assessment to determine appropriate resource levels as body-worn cameras were phased into operations. The cost summary provided in that document also details the impact of BWC on the district attorney, public defender and alternate public defender’s offices, who would be required to review and process camera data as part of case discovery evidence used in criminal proceedings.
The costs would be incurred over a four-year period as follows:
• Year 1: LASD pre-deployment phase focuses on staffing, infrastructure, procurement, program rollout and oversight.
• Year 2: Phase I — LASD deployment at six patrol stations specifically chosen to address the highest areas of risk. The criminal justice partners also begin to phase in infrastructure and staffing needs in anticipation of additional workload to support the prosecution and defense of criminal cases. During this phase, the DA proposes the implementation of 150 BWCs for investigators and PD proposes four BWCs as a pilot for investigators.
• Year 3: Phase II — LASD deployment at the remaining 17 patrol stations and one specialized patrol station. APD phases in the second year of staffing needs to support the defense of criminal cases.
• Year 4: Phase III – LASD deployment at the remaining eight specialized patrol stations.
According to the document, in Fiscal Year 2017-18’s Recommended Budget, $6.7 million was set aside in the Provisional Financing Uses Budget unit to address the estimated costs associated with the pre-deployment phase of the BWC plan. In addition, to evaluate the reasonableness of the departments’ proposal, a BWC pilot program was considered.
The costs for pre-deployment and Phase I was proposed by LASD (deployment of BWC at six stations) are estimated at $36.2 million, consisting of $10 million in one-time and $26.2 million in ongoing funding. Ongoing S&EB costs are estimated at $21.6 million for 148 additional positions.
The budget proposal assumes LASD will receive a $1 million federal grant award (during Phase I, Year 2) from the United States Department of Justice for their BWC program.
“Our office has not identified a funding source for the pre-deployment and Phase I remaining costs of $29.5 million,” the document states. “Since this report only requested the funding requirement to implement BWC, further research and outreach on this matter should be conducted prior to the Board’s consideration, specifically, we recommend that LASD engage a consultant with law enforcement expertise to assess the proposed policies, procedures, deployment plan, staffing levels and operational impact of BWCs on the department and the public it serves. The assessment would include a community engagement process, so constituents can provide meaningful and essential input on LASD’s proposed BWC policies and procedures to help broaden the County’s decision-making process.”
Despite a lag in this initial process, the program appears to be on track to be rolled out soon. A third report from the inspector general to the Board of Supervisors was recently released and the RFP process has been completed.
A message sent to McDonnell inquiring about the BWC program was not answered.
In part two, the third report and most recent action will be discussed.