Committee approves plan for body camera reports

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The Minneapolis Police Department’s plan to issue quarterly reports on its body-worn camera program won the approval of the City Council’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Committee.

The council last year directed the department to submit the reports in response to an audit of the body-worn camera program. Among other issues, the audit showed officers often were failing to turn on their cameras after being dispatched to a call and that the recordings were sometimes ended early without explanation.

The city audit was released two months after Fulton neighborhood resident Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, was shot by a Minneapolis police officer who responded to her 911 call. The body cameras worn by both that officer, Mohamed Noor, and his partner were turned off at the time.

Two weeks later, then-interim Police Chief Medaria Arradondo ordered a change to the department’s body camera policy that required officers to activate their cameras after being dispatched on any call or in response to self-initiated activity by the officers.

The first quarterly report on the program, expected in the next few months, will track the number of videos produced by the body worn cameras, the total hours of footage and the precincts where the videos are recorded. Deputy Chief of Professional Standards Henry Halvorson told the committee at its Feb. 15 meeting that future reports will also include checks on when officers start, activate, use and deactivate their cameras, as well as how they categorize and attach case numbers to the video when filing the data. Those audits will cover about 2 percent of officers.

Ward 13 City Council Member Linea Palmisano said that audit data would be essential to building public trust in the program.

“I think the thing most important to the public here is: How often are body cameras not being turned on when dispatch data indicates that they should? I don’t know that the public cares as much about start-up checks and the activation checks,” Palmisano said.

The department is also rewriting its body-worn camera policy to respond to the shortcomings highlighted in the city’s September audit of the program.

Halvorson said the new policy would address specific issues raised in that report, including the inconsistent categorizing of body camera videos. Misclassification of the recordings could mean some video evidence was not retained as long as was called for in policy.

Halvorson said a draft of the updated policy was complete and under review by city and police department staff. The department aims to complete that review by March, he said.

Once adopted, the department plans to update its body worn camera training and training materials. It’s also in the process of hiring civilian staff to review compliance with the new body worn camera policy. Those civilians will be assigned to the department’s quality assurance unit, Halvorson said.

City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison (Ward 5) asked Halvorson how the department’s body camera usage was affected by officers who “simply don’t like this tool and don’t want to use this tool because they haven’t had to use it in the past.”

Halvorson said officers had struggled to adapt to other new technologies, including the mobile video cameras installed in squad cars and GPS, but eventually learned to embrace both.

“So, there might have been an initial pushback on (body-worn cameras), but when officers see the importance of it, what it captures and what it shows from their perspective, there’s definitely more positive responses then we have had negative responses,” he said.

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