LOS ANGELES — On any given day, Los Angeles police officers record roughly 8,000 interactions with the public on body-worn cameras. Most of the footage goes unseen.
The city spent millions on the cameras to help provide transparency and accountability, but LAPD officials say they don't have enough personnel to monitor the countless hours of recordings. The department has also struggled to keep tabs on whether officers are turning off their cameras in violation of department rules — as members of a disbanded gang unit from the Mission division are suspected of doing in order to cover up thefts, unlawful searches, and other alleged misconduct.
A recent internal report suggested lapses in body-cam activation are more widespread than the department has previously let on, and that its system for auditing compliance falls short. In the aftermath of the Mission scandal, LAPD leaders have been eyeing a potential solution: artificial intelligence, which can analyze vast troves of body camera footage with a few keystrokes. Police agencies across the country hope that new advancements with the technology will help identify officer misconduct that is captured on camera.
Police Chief Michel Moore said the Mission officers are suspected of "gaming" the department's camera rules, which require random reviews of body-cam activation on stops involving gang suspects — but only in cases where no enforcement action is taken. The policy is intended to monitor the conduct of gang units as they interact with the public, but Moore said Mission officers searched vehicles without justification, thinking their body-cam footage would not be reviewed. Their actions were discovered after a motorist filed a complaint with the department alleging they were pulled over last December and their car was illegally searched.
The department began reviewing the unit's body camera footage and other information, and it found discrepancies with what officers wrote in their reports. The FBI is investigating, and the department has moved to fire at least two of the involved officers, who are also facing criminal charges.
Asked earlier this year whether the Mission case could open the door to using advanced software to audit the department's camera footage, Moore said "artificial intelligence is a very scary term to many people because they think it's somehow autonomous and that it's going to take its own path." But he still sees potential.
"What can systems do to help show anomalies?" he asked. "I'm always interested in understanding how that can happen."
Most signs suggest the department is seriously considering the technology.
Earlier this year, the LAPD announced a joint study with researchers from USC and three other universities that will use machine learning systems to analyze the language that officers use during traffic stops. The study, which will take three years to complete, will review body camera footage from roughly 1,000 traffic stops for problematic word choice or tone.
A department official told the Police Commission in August that AI will "undoubtedly become a profound element in officer training in the future."
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