LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles police officers tampered with recording gear in dozens of patrol cars to avoid being monitored, and avoided discipline for the altered cars, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
One inspection by LAPD investigators found that about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South LA division were missing antennas that help capture what officers say in the field, and antennas in at least 10 more cars in surrounding divisions were also removed, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Chief Charlie Beck learned about the problem last summer, but issued general warnings and put new checks in place rather than investigate which officers were responsible.
Members of the police commission tell the Times that they were not briefed on the problem until months later, and were alarmed by both the behavior and the failure to include them in the investigation.
"On an issue like this, we need to be brought in right away," commission President Steve Soboroff said. "This equipment is for the protection of the public and of the officers. To have people who don't like the rules to take it upon themselves to do something like this is very troubling."
Beck said he did not deliberately keep commissioners in the dark, and emphasized that he has been a vocal advocate of the in-car cameras that use the antennas.
"The department did not try to hide this issue," Beck said.
The cameras, which automatically turn on when a car's sirens go on and can also be activated manually, are used to record traffic stops and similar encounters. The officers also wear small transmitters on their belts that allow them to be heard in the patrol car even if it's hundreds of yards away.
When the problem came to light after a Southeast Division supervisor noticed the missing antennas, Beck issued warnings against further tampering and put checks in place to account for the equipment at the beginning and end of each shift.
"We took the situation very seriously," Cmdr. Andy Smith said. "But because the chances of determining who was responsible was so low we elected to . move on."