By Kelly Goff
LOS ANGELES — Members of the Los Angeles Police Department failed to inform its civilian oversight board last summer about intentionally broken antennas for police car recording devices, and one of the police commissioners asked Tuesday for a review of the problem and an explanation for the lack of communication.
Commissioner Robert Saltzman asked the department's inspector general to find out why the board was never told the antennas were intentionally broken in dozens of patrol cars, most likely by officers who did not want to be recorded.
Department officials knew about the problem last summer, but did not investigate who was damaging the antennas.
Saltzman called the lack of communication unacceptable and pointed to an officer-involved shooting the commission recently adjudicated, noting audio recordings of the incident were extremely poor in quality and were not of much use because the car's antenna had been tampered with.
This, he said, could mean other investigations have been compromised and would require further examination. Some patrol vehicles are outfitted with the small cameras, which are connected to recording devices kept with each officer. The devices only begin recording when switched on by an officer or when the police car's lights and sirens are turned on.
While an officer cannot be seen by the camera when he or she leaves the line of sight, the device can record sound through a device an officer wears. An antenna that has been tampered with can cause the audio to be degraded or of poor quality.
Chief Charlie Beck denied that the problem with the antennas was purposefully kept from the commission and said he and the department were working to convince officers that the in-car recorders are valuable police tools. The antennas are now checked each time a patrol car changes hands, and officers have been warned about damaging police equipment, Beck said.
"Look, I have been a big advocate of in-car cameras, back to when I was a deputy chief," he said. He emphasized that he sees the recordings as beneficial to both the officers and citizens.
Beck said he thought discovering who had damaged the antennas would be difficult, if not impossible, because the cars change hands so many times. Nearly all of the problems took place in the department's Southeast Division.
Commission President Steve Soboroff said Beck informed him of the issue last fall and assured him that the problem had been remedied.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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