Minneapolis police chief tightens officer body camera policy
Minneapolis police officers will be required to have their body cameras on when they respond to calls and make traffic stops
By Steve Karnowski
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis police officers will be required to have their body cameras on when they respond to calls and make traffic stops, the acting police chief announced Wednesday, following widespread criticism that two officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 911 caller had not activated their cameras.
The stricter requirements will take effect Saturday, Acting Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said at a news conference. Officers who violate them could face discipline ranging from one-day suspensions to firing, he said.
"Many of our officers are using their cameras a lot, and as they're intended to be used," he said. "But there are some officers, quite frankly, that are not using them nearly enough."
Justine Damond, a 40-year-old spiritual teacher and bride-to-be from Australia, was shot by Officer Mohamed Noor after she called 911 on July 15 to report hearing a possible sexual assault behind her Minneapolis home. Noor's partner, Officer Matthew Harrity, told investigators he was startled by a loud noise right before Damond approached their police SUV. Noor, who was in the passenger seat, shot Damond through the driver-side window.
Mayor Betsy Hodges expressed frustration at the news conference that despite all the time, money and energy the city has put into deploying body cameras, "we did not have body camera footage in an incident where it mattered a great deal."
Before she resigned at the mayor's request last week, former police Chief Janee Harteau said the officers' cameras should have been on.
Minneapolis launched a body camera pilot project in November 2014, just months after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Minnesota's largest city began to roll out the technology throughout the department last summer and the cameras have been deployed department-wide for about eight months.
The old policy required officers to turn on their cameras in more than a dozen situations, including for a traffic stop, search of a person or building, any contact involving criminal activity and, if possible, before the use of force.
The amended policy gives officers less leeway. It says they should activate their cameras immediately upon being dispatched to a call, when self-initiating a call such as a traffic stop, before taking any law enforcement action, before making investigatory contacts, when any situation becomes adversarial, and before assisting citizens except for providing basic advice such as directions.
The language requiring officers to activate their cameras when dispatched is "kind of unique," said Michael White, a criminology professor at Arizona State University and a co-director of a Justice Department body camera funding assistance program who has reviewed over 100 policies from law enforcement agencies across the country.
Most agencies don't require officers to activate their cameras until they arrive at the scene, he said. And if the policy had been in place when Damond was killed, it would have been caught on video, he said.
Telling officers to activate their cameras when they're dispatched is consistent with Justice Department best-practice guidelines, said Chuck Wexler, executive director for the Police Executive Research Forum. Since officers don't know what they may face when they arrive at the scene, the last thing they should worry about is turning them on, he said.
Robert Bennett, an attorney for Damond's family, said the new policy seems to be a clarification of what was already in place.
"It eliminates any discretionary thoughts that officers might have had in misconstruing the prior policy," he said. "Their cameras were supposed to have been on when they went into that alley."
The department also has begun installing technology to turn the devices on automatically when the lights on the squad car are activated, Deputy Chief Mike Kjos said. It's similar to how the department's dashboard cameras are activated, he said. But it will probably take at least a couple months before the system enters service because it must be installed in all of the roughly 200 squad cars first, he said.
The department does not expect its data storage costs to increase because its vendor contract provides unlimited storage.
City leaders said the police department had been reviewing its body camera policy before Damond was killed and may make further changes after a planned audit of its program. That report is due Sept. 27.
Data from March released by the Minneapolis Police Department and published by television station KSTP show that officers wearing body cameras there recorded a little less than 20 minutes of footage for every eight-hour shift. Criminal justice experts said that amount of time seemed low.