Despite Increased Body Camera Use, Some Minneapolis Police Still Don't Adhere to Policy

According to a recent audit, usage of body cams spiked after an added policy, but not everyone is adhering to the change.

by Libor Jany, Star Tribune / September 19, 2017
David Kidd/Government Technology

(TNS) -- A directive issued nearly two months ago ordering Minneapolis police to turn on their body cameras during most public encounters found that officers are recording thousands of hours of additional footage, but some are still failing to activate them as required.

The probe, conducted by the city’s Internal Audit Department revealed that from their issue in July 2016 to July 29, officers turned their cameras on when they were required to 65 percent of the time. After the new policy was issued that number increased to 71 percent.

The results of the audit, presented to the Minneapolis City Council on Tuesday, found several shortcomings in the city’s body camera policy, ranging from training on their usage and when police officers should turn them on to how the videos collected are classified under state statutes. But it also showed a spike in usage following the new policy, including hours of video captured per day, length of videos and percentage of hours worked that were filmed by the cameras.

In July, then-interim Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo said officers must activate their body cameras when responding to any call, traffic stop or self-initiated activity, a shift from the leeway and discretion officers were given on when to turn on the cameras.

The new policy required officers to turn them on during any encounter with the public. The policy came in the wake of the July 15 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in south Minneapolis after she called 911 to report a possible assault.

The incident was not captured on video because neither the shooter, Officer Mohamed Noor nor his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, had turned on his body camera, and the police squad’s dashboard camera also was not running. The incident has drawn international attention and sharp criticism of the Minneapolis Police Department and led to the resignation of Chief Janeé Harteau. The audit’s findings compared body camera usage before the new policy was initiated to after. Department statistics showed that the number of videos recorded by officers jumped to 55,729 in the month after the new policy was announced, from 23,876 the month before. The number of hours of body camera footage jumped from 2,521 to roughly 9,060, in the same period.

Among the findings:

• Some officers were leaving their cameras powered off, preventing the pre-event recording feature from capturing what happened before the record button was pressed. Before the new policy, 15 percent of videos did not have a 30-second prerecording. This increased to 22 percent under the new policy.

• The audit studied whether the cameras caught a clear view of an incident. Before the new policy 6 percent of videos did not capture the incident. This decreased to 3 percent under the new policy.

• Under the old policy 22 percent of cameras were deactivated before an event ended. Under the new policy, this went down to 12 percent. In several cases, officers would turn off the cameras mid-incident and turn them on later without narrating the reason for deactivation.

• Officers were not consistently uploading their body camera data at the end of their shifts.

Minneapolis City Council Member Linea Palmisano said Monday that the review shows that most of the problems stem from a lack of accountability for officers who don’t activate their cameras when responding to calls or turn them off without explanation, she said.

“There’s some people who never have it on,” said Palmisano. “This is a very expensive program, and there isn’t oversight of this, and there isn’t governance.”

But Arradondo on Monday pointed to figures showing that body camera use has risen steadily in the past six weeks or so.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and we’re still learning,” he said. Citing the program’s relative newness, Arradondo said he “didn’t expect to see staggering numbers in terms of usage.”

©2017 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.