Police present first quarterly audit of body cam use

The Minneapolis Police Department’s first quarterly audit of its body-worn camera program showed the video evidence collected by those cameras was incorrectly logged nearly one-quarter of the time.

The audit examined a random sample of 248 videos recorded by 25 officers between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. Sixty-one of those videos — about 24 percent of the total — were filed without being attached to the proper case number, according to the findings Cmdr. Chris Granger presented to the City Council’s Public Safety and Emergency Management Committee on March 15.

Granger, who is in charge of quality assurance and oversees the body-worn camera program, told committee members about 14 percent of the videos did not include a full 30 seconds of footage prior to activation. That indicates officers were wearing the cameras but had them turned off until just before the video-recorded incidents began.

The audit also found video evidence was filed without being properly categorized in about 5 percent of the videos in the sample. In 7 percent of the videos reviewed in the audit, it appeared that officers improperly turned the cameras off before the event they were responding to had concluded.

Granger said the audit also turned up other patterns with camera usage, including instances when the camera lens was blocked by an officer’s jacket.

Granger’s presentation showed the department hasn’t yet eliminated issues with the body-worn camera identified in a separate audit conducted last year. That earlier audit also turned up issues with officers failing to turn on their cameras after being dispatched on a call and ending recordings before the call was completed.

The department’s body-worn camera program came under scrutiny following the death in July of Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, who was shot by a Minneapolis officer responding to her 911 call. The incident was not recorded on the cameras worn by either the officer who fired his weapon or his partner.

In response, then-interim Police Chief Medaria Arradondo ordered changes to the body-camera policy requiring officers to activate their cameras on all calls and in the case of any self-initiated activity.

The department is in the process of developing more revisions to the body-worn camera policy. As of mid-March, the updated policy hadn’t been released publicly and was still being reviewed by department staff, civilians on the Police Conduct Oversight Commission, the city and county attorneys and the police union.

Granger said updates under consideration for the rewritten policy include a requirement that most SWAT officers wear the cameras. Other revisions may require officers to keep body-worn cameras powered on during their entire shift, to file video evidence in the proper format and with the correct case number attached, to note any camera equipment issues in incident reports and to activate cameras during in-person contact at the precinct offices when citizens file reports or misconduct complaints.

The department is also planning to hire two civilian auditors to review the use of body-worn cameras. The first started March 5, and another auditor is expected to join the department within a few weeks.

City Council Member Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) said Minneapolis officers were creating about 500–1,000 videos per day before Arradondo ordered the policy changes last year. That number jumped to 1,500-2,100 per day “immediately after” the changes, she said.

“What I’d like to think that that shows is that a policy change can have a pretty substantial and fairly immediate impact on things,” Palmisano said.

Statistics from the department show that, when officers were equipped with body-worn cameras, officers activated the cameras when required about 55 percent of the time as of February. That was down from 61 percent of the time in August, around the time of the policy change, but up significantly from July, when cameras were activated only about 18 percent of the time.

Granger said those percentages were low in part because of the issue with officers not linking videos to the correct case number. He said the department was taking steps to resolve that issue, and he expected compliance with department policy to increase.

Granger agreed with Palmisano’s assessment that policy changes could drive compliance. He said the department was also working to get the performance data into the hands of supervisors “in a timely manner” so they can use it to either retrain their staff or work with individual officers on compliance issues.