Minneapolis police officers are too often failing to turn on their body cameras when dealing with the public, according to a new city audit, which at least partly blamed the lapses on a lack of training and oversight.
The 32-page report by the city’s Internal Audit Department cites six trouble areas in the city’s body camera and dashboard camera policies. The results, presented to City Council members on Tuesday, found shortcomings ranging from training on the cameras’ usage and when police officers should turn them on.
“It’s not apparent that any division within the [Minneapolis Police Department] or City focused on the operationalization of the program in pursuit of its original goals of enhancing accountability and public trust,” the report read. It listed 20 recommendations for improvement.
The day before the audit became public, police released figures showing that officers are recording thousands of hours of additional body camera footage since a new, departmentwide directive issued two months ago required that the devices be turned on during most public encounters.
In late July, then-interim Chief Medaria Arradondo said officers must activate their body cameras when responding to any 911 call, traffic stop or self-initiated activity, a shift from a previous policy that gave officers more discretion.
The audit revealed that from the cameras’ rollout last year to July 29 of this year, officers turned on their cameras when they were required to 65 percent of the time. After the new policy was issued, that increased to 71 percent.
Training materials didn’t cover certain aspects of the body camera policy, including the steps for notifying supervisors of video “with administrative value” and protocols for using the devices in conjunction with a police cruiser’s dashboard cameras, the audit said. It also determined that officers were sometimes turning off their cameras without explanation while transporting a suspect to jail or that they were turning them off early.
“We want to make sure our officers are equipped with the best equipment and our community can feel confident that we’re using it in the manner it was meant to be,” Arradondo said in a statement.
The new policy came in the wake of the July 15 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond after she called 911 to report a possible assault behind her Minneapolis home.
Neither the shooter, officer Mohamed Noor, nor his partner, officer Matthew Harrity, turned on his body camera. The squad car’s dashboard camera was not running, either. The incident drew international attention and sharp criticism of the Police Department and led to the resignation of Chief Janeé Harteau.
The audit’s findings compared body camera usage before and after the new policy was initiated. 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.
In a Facebook post Monday, Mayor Betsy Hodges said that “there’s still work to do” but that she was pleased that recent policy changes have already led to a spike in usage.
Police union President Lt. Bob Kroll said some of that may be explained by the devices’ limited battery life, which has forced some officers to go back to their stations to charge their cameras. He said he is generally supportive of the department’s policy, which requires officers to wear their cameras even during off-duty work assignments.
“The policy is clear,” Kroll said, adding that officers should realize they may face discipline if it’s discovered that their cameras weren’t turned on as directed.
City Council Member Linea Palmisano said the review shows that most problems stem from a lack of accountability for officers who don’t activate their cameras when responding to calls or turn them off prematurely without explanation.
“The concern now is how do we actually put the leadership in place to govern a program that gets to transparency and accountability, because we don’t have that today — that was made very apparent,” Palmisano said after Tuesday’s meeting. She added that she was troubled by the revelation that SWAT officers rarely have their cameras on.