Late last year, evaluations of body camera use by the Minneapolis Police Department came up unacceptably short.
A September internal review found that officers were activating their cameras more often but that use was inconsistent. Too many cops frequently left their cameras off altogether while responding to calls, even after policies were tightened. The City Council then instructed MPD to report quarterly on compliance. But despite that order, the department still didn’t properly track camera use as recently as February.
A city audit concluded that most of the problems likely resulted from a lack of discipline when officers ignored department rules.
Following the public outcry, city officials have rightly put their united foot down by making it clear that bodycam use is not optional. Last week, Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced policy changes backed up with real penalties. Failure to use the devices can get an officer suspended or even fired.
Now cops must activate their cameras at least two blocks before they reach the address of a call, or immediately if dispatched to a closer incident. That same policy applies to officers in assisting squad cars. The new policy also spells out the limited circumstance under which officers can deactivate their cameras.
Failure to activate the devices when the rules require can now result in discipline ranging from a 10- to 40-hour suspension to termination — particularly in cases involving use of force and when there are aggravating factors. MPD officials will have discretion to consider mitigating and aggravating factors.
In addition, the department plans to offer a new online tool this spring that will track when cops activate their cameras while on duty. MPD also recently hired two civilians to help review hours of body camera recordings for potential policy violations.
Minneapolis leaders didn’t invest more than $8 million in body camera equipment and training to have the devices treated like jewelry — worn only for decoration. “For the first time, we’re going to give it [body camera policy] teeth …,” Frey said. “Any body camera policy worth its salt must have consequences — this one does.”