Los Angeles police officers tampered with voice recording equipment in an apparent attempt to keep their behavior from being monitored, according to an investigation by the Police Commission.
Cops reportedly removed the antennas on at least fifty squad cars, mostly in the Southeast division, which patrols low-income and minority-heavy communities and has a history of excessive force. The antennas help audio recorders worn on cops’ belts transmit back to the car from farther distances.
Police departments are starting to embrace recording equipment in patrol cars and on cops themselves as a way of internally monitoring officers. Cameras in the dashboard of a car turn on automatically when an officer switches on the emergency lights and sirens, and officers also wear audio recorders on their belts. On top of this, the LAPD is also preparing to make officers wear lapel cameras.
Recorders have helped expose a number of police abuses all over the country. In the case of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man who was beaten to death by cops in nearby Orange County, digital transmitters worn by the officers captured Thomas begging for his life, as well as the officer’s now infamous threat: “See these fists? They’re getting ready to fuck you up.”
Still, even with footage of these abuses, cops rarely face consequences for their actions. In fact, top LAPD officials learned about the sabotaged equipment last summer but kept it under wraps for months. The Police Commission only discovered the tampering during a shooting investigation, where some of the recordings were fuzzy while others were clear. Police departments’ reflex to close ranks and protect abusive officers means many complaints go ignored and dangerous officers stay on the streets, sometimes with fatal results.
The LAPD recently ended over a decade of monitoring by the Justice Department that had been mandated after rampant civil rights abuses and corruption. A federal judge decided the department had reformed enough to lift the federal oversight, as the LAPD promised to continue internal policing like the car recording. The department has been praised for apparently transforming from one of the most corrupt and violent police forces in the nation into a success story.