Los Angeles police hand out body cameras to first patrol division

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Police Department handed out body cameras to its first patrol division on Monday, putting hundreds of the devices on the streets of the nation's second-largest city in a roll-out of technology seen by proponents as key to building trust in law enforcement.

The move by the LAPD, following smaller pilot programs in New York City and Chicago, came a day after the mayor of Milwaukee proposed spending $880,000 to equip his city's entire force of 1,200 patrol officers with body cameras by the end of 2016.

Many U.S. cities have moved toward supplying body cameras to patrol officers following rising tensions and protests over what critics see as the indiscriminate use of force by police against unarmed civilians, especially racial minorities and the mentally ill.

The issue has been heightened by a string of highly publicized deadly confrontations, many that bystanders caught on video, between police and unarmed African-American men during the past year.

The nearly 9,900-member LAPD is the nation's third-largest metropolitan police force and the biggest to commit to equipping all its patrol officers, numbering about 7,000 personnel, with bodycams.

The American Civil Liberties Union supports the use of police body cams but has called the LAPD plan flawed because the department has not pledged to automatically release footage, even in high-profile shootings.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he looks forward to hearing from officers about their experience with the camera project.

"It will enhance accountability, build more trust with the communities we serve and give officers a cutting-edge tool in their efforts to keep Los Angeles safe," he said in a statement.

The Mission Station in the city's sprawling San Fernando Valley suburb on Monday became the first division to hand out the palm-sized cameras - 800 of them - to patrol officers, who wear them at the front of their collar and activate them by pressing a button.

The department plans to distribute the rest of the cameras before the end of 2016, said LAPD Captain Jeffrey Bert.

He acknowledged officers may at times forget to turn on the camera in the heat of the moment.

The cost of body cameras, which can run from $350 to $700 apiece, has hindered widespread adoption of the technology in many cities.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in South Carolina passed a bill to require all state and local law enforcement officers to eventually be equipped with bodycams.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)