OPINION: The effect of body cameras in the LAPD’s shooting investigation

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Mote is a junior French
major from Indianapolis.
CHRISTA SCHRODEL / THE DEPAUW

On Sunday, a homeless man known as “Africa” was shot dead by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD officers were responding to a report of robbery on the 500 block of San Pedro Street when they encountered the man near his tent set up on Skid Row; the area of a populated homeless community.

A disturbing bystander video of the shooting was then shared throughout the Internet and watched across the world. In the altercation between the homeless man (identified yesterday as Charley Leundeu Keunang) and the LAPD officers, the alleged struggle for a rookie officer’s gun resulted in Keunang being shot several times by other officers at the scene of the dispute.

The witnesses shouted obscenities at the officers as they worked to cordon off the area of the homicide. It was clear that the amassing crowd around the scene had one unified question in mind: Why is this happening again and again?

In the days after the incident, the LAPD revealed that two of the officers involved in the altercation were part of a pilot program to test the use of body cameras in the line of duty. The role of the body cameras in the LAPD’s investigation will focus on the officers’ actions and will be heavily critiqued by the public, who are searching for answers to yet another police-involved tragedy.  The LAPD has wisely opted not to release the footage from the body cameras at this point of the investigation.

Even though the bystander footage of this horrific incident is available online, I question whether releasing the body camera footage to the public will solve any of the issues at hand, including the LAPD’s blatant use of force to subdue Keunang.

Publicly releasing the body camera footage of the incident will not take back the life of Charles Keunang. It will not ease the sorrow of his friends and family. I believe that doing so will likely further the pain and anguish inflicted upon them.

The presence of body cameras will not stop life-threatening situations, such as the death of Charles Keunang, from arising. However, their presence will hold the recorder and the subject of the recording to a higher level of accountability. Both parties will be more likely to act in accordance with the laws set forth if they know that their actions can be reviewed at a later point in time.

I believe that body cameras are a modern necessity to quell the growing insecurity of improper police actions in our communities. However, the public release of their footage is a line that should not be crossed yet.