Cleveland Officials: Should Moonlighting Officers Wear Body Cameras?

Many other cities require off-duty officers working security gigs to wear the department-issued devices.

by Eric Heisig, Advance Ohio Media / October 27, 2017

(TNS) -- CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cleveland police, unlike a growing number of departments across the country, are not required to wear body cameras during off-duty jobs like uniformed security details at your local grocery store, Progressive Field or Playhouse Square.

Some of the departments that require moonlighting officers to wear their cameras told that the body cameras have become part of the uniform and that the public doesn't make a distinction between an on-duty officer and an officer they see at a bar, arena or festival.

To them, a cop is a cop.

"If you're in uniform, you have to wear it," Det. Seth Tyler of the Chandler, Arizona, police department said. reached out to departments that patrol the top 100 most populous cities in the country. Of the 97 who either responded or whose policies or information could be found online, 70 had body camera policies or intend to roll out policies and programs very soon.

Of those, officials from 42 departments said their officers are required to wear their cameras during secondary employment shifts.

The issue is something Cleveland officials have quibbled over as it seeks to come into compliance with a settlement known as a consent decree that it reached with the Justice Department to reform the city's police department.

Nothing in the consent decree requires officers to wear body cameras, but it says the monitoring team hired to oversee the roll out of the federally mandated reforms must give guidance to the city on its body camera policy. The monitor has pushed the city to require officers to use their cameras during off-duty shifts. Cleveland says its needs to research it more before fully committing.

To complicate matters, the union representing most of the city's officers bristled at the city's attempt to conduct a trial to address concerns with using body cameras while moonlighting.

Now, the city is in a sort of holding pattern, recommending but not requiring officers to wear them while moonlighting. Cleveland's consent decree coordinator, retired federal Magistrate Judge Greg White, said the city still has questions on uploading footage after an off-duty shift and how businesses that hire the officers will react.

The city and monitoring team are expected to address the issue again in the new year. Matthew Barge, who heads the monitoring team, said the team's position has not changed.

In Cleveland, off-duty work proves a good, and sometimes vital, source of income for officers, who rank among the lowest paid police officers for large cities in the state. It provides an opportunity to work at gigs big and small, while still putting on the uniform and the belt with the gun, Taser and tools officers wear while walking or driving their beat. As of May, 630 Cleveland police officers are approved to work some sort of off-duty employment shifts.

And while the federal judge overseeing the consent decree has not yet ordered the city to take any steps as it pertains to off-duty employment, he has made his feelings clear.

"When I see a police officer, I see a police officer, and I really never think twice about who employs them," U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. said at a hearing in January. "I am hands up, you know, and that's the way I feel."

What do other departments do?

A survey of large police department found that most departments that require officers to wear body cameras also require them to be used while moonlighting. Some departments that don't currently require officers to wear body cameras told that they are in the midst of study the possibility or are participating in pilot programs.

Departments deal with moonlighting in different ways. In some cities, the officers are still technically working for the city when on paid details. In others, a moonlighting officer technically works for an outside employer, even though they are wearing a police uniform and has to follow most of a department's policies.

Didn't police and citizens call for more use of body cams?

Michael White, a professor at Arizona State University who has studied the use of body cameras, said about half of the law enforcement agencies in the country are either seriously exploring or using the cameras. Their proliferation is recent, as departments have favored their use in the wake of high-profile incidents involving police use of force such as in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or Eric Garner in New York.

While many departments say they have body cameras, not all are at "full deployment," said the professor, who is not related to Greg White. This would mean that a city has purchased the number of body cameras necessary to ensure all officers who need them can wear them.

The off-duty issue appears to be one of the main questions departments are now working to answer, he said.

The professor said he is a proponent of officers using body cameras while moonlighting. It's easy to imagine the fallout of a moonlighting officer, wearing his or her uniform, being accused of misconduct while taking police action, Michael White said.

"And if the officer didn't have a body worn camera, then that's going to create problems for the leadership, I think," he said.

Hasn't Cleveland had a problem with officer uses of force?

Among the reasons the Justice Department reached a settlement with Cleveland was because officers with the department had a historically bad record of using too much force on suspects. The city was also not transparent when investigating officer misconduct and too often skewed probes toward favoring the officers, according to the Justice Department.

The body cameras, which the city deployed in 2015, were one way the city felt it could address the issue. Now, there can be proof on whether an officer acted improperly while dealing with a suspect. They have also proven useful and critically important during criminal investigations.

Has wearing body cams reduced citizen complaints here?

By the city's account, the use of body cameras has been a success. The city has said the number of citizen complaints against officers fell as a result of their use.

Numbers provided by the city showed that 294 people filed cases with the city's Office of Professional Standards, which investigates citizen complaints against officers, in 2015. In 2016, that number fell to 263, and 177 complaints have been filed as of Oct. 3.

Their happiness with the program comes even in the face of new research that shows that body cameras generally may not change the behaviors of police officers. A study conducted by Lab @ DC on the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. showed that there was little difference in officer behavior whether they wore the camera or not.

So why doesn't Cleveland require wearing them while off-duty?

Greg White said the city is not against officers using body cameras on off-duty shifts, but it needs to answer some fundamental questions before it makes it a requirement.

Mainly, the issues are: how will business owners react, who will pay for the time officers have to take to tag and upload video on to a server, and how long will the uploading process take?

"It's not a simple subject," Greg White said. "There are complexities to it that need to be addressed to do that."

Cleveland proposed a pilot program in March in which officers could test out using them during secondary shifts and hopefully answer some of its questions.

But the patrolmen's union basically ensured none of its members would participate. It strongly discouraged its members from participating, saying it would open them up to potential discipline and even criminal charges.

The union told its members in an April 25 letter that "it is the OFFICIAL UNION POLICY to refrain from 'VOLUNTEERING' for anything with regard to work."

As a result, the city tried to get Oliver to simply sign off on the policy -- sans the moonlighting requirement -- while vowing to continue to continue to collect data. The judge has not made any decision, but is instead awaiting the city's data.

Greg White said he is not optimistic the city will get enough from the officers who volunteer. The monitor has made similiar comments.

When asked Greg White whether any officers have shot video while doing an off-duty detail, he said he did not know and didn't think it would be right to ask someone at the police department to look up that information.

Do business owners have concerns?

Sgt. Brian Betley, president of the union that represented Cleveland police supervisors, previously said that some outside employers would prefer officers not wear body cameras while moonlighting, because a video of an incident could become a public record and be released for all to see.

Two of the largest employers of off-duty officers said they don't have a problem with officers wearing and using body cameras on their property, should an officer need to take police action.

Cindi Szymanski, a spokeswoman for Playhouse Square, said the theater company has no problem with officers wearing body cameras and that it expects officers to follow all the policies of their respective departments.

A spokesman for the Cleveland Cavaliers also said the team is OK with whatever decision the city makes.

Who pays for the time spent uploading the video?

As for taking time to tag and upload body camera footage, it appears that many departments have not spelled out when an officer should do so. Michael White said of the 75 policies from departments of all sizes that he recently reviewed as part of a group that reviews Justice Department grant applications, only four spelled out when an officer should upload footage from a moonlighting shift.

He said the concerns the city of Cleveland expressed about who will pay for the tagging and uploading is something that other cities have shared. Loomis also said the union's attorneys believe that an officer who uploads footage from an off-duty shift on city time could be breaking the law by committing theft in office.

Still, it appears to be a hurdle many cities overcame.

Barge and the monitoring team wrote in a June report tracking the city's progress under the consent decree that the team explored asking outside employers "bear any additional costs as a condition of CDP approval of new secondary employment requests."

As for when and how long it will take for an officer to upload relevant footage from an off-duty shift -- and how much it will cost either the city or an outside employer -- the city says it is studying that.

The monitoring team wrote in its report that the city's body cameras can store up to 70 hours of footage -- enough to continuously record nearly nine full shifts -- so it doesn't need to be done immediately.

The monitor also suggested that officers upload any footage the next time they are on city time.

Michael White said an officer working a beat has, on average, shot between two and four hours of footage on a 10-hour on-duty shift. Presumably, the amount of footage shot while moonlighting will be much less, as officers aren't responding to calls in the same way, he said.

Well, what's the hold-up?

Loomis said he doesn't see a way to make this work unless the city does one thing: centralize the assigning of off-duty shifts and have the process run through its own unit. It is currently incumbent on officers to set up outside employment on their own, though a city police supervisor or higher must sign off.

Running moonlighting shifts through the department would ensure that officers would legally be able to adhere to all city policies, including the one on body cameras, Loomis said.

For now, though, the city is taking a "wait-and-see" approach, much to the chagrin of the monitoring team. The issues are set to come up again next year as the city and monitoring team look at their use.

But Michael White always goes back to the same argument, one that has prevailed in an era where cases involving potential police misconduct have received more attention than ever.

"The last thing a chief of police wants his or her officer engaged in secondary employment in a uniform and not wearing a body worn camera ... and then something terrible happens and it's not captured on the camera," he said.

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