Minneapolis police are turning on their body cameras about 80 percent of the time when responding to calls and during most public interactions — a dramatic improvement from the initial rollout when officers were criticized for failing to reliably use the technology.
A report presented at Thursday’s meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety & Emergency Management Committee showed that camera use in the second quarter of 2018 held steady from the first three months of the year.
Bodycam use during calls about “suspicious persons” and “unknown trouble” also remained static, while the report found that officers turned on their cameras in nine of 10 traffic stops.
“To me this plateau is an indication that we made some great improvement and we’re at a point now where we need to focus on the remaining percentage of folks that aren’t activating their cameras when they should be,” Cmdr. Christopher Granger told committee members.
The report comes as Minneapolis officials prepare to release body camera footage of officers fatally shooting Thurman Blevins, sparking outrage among residents and activists on the city’s North Side.
Granger said that the audit, part of a quarterly check-in requested by the council, shows that officers are doing a better job of attaching the correct case number to videos, an area of concern in the past.
From January to March, officers did not tag their videos with the correct case number about 28 percent of the time, the report shows. In the second quarter, that figure was down to about 4 percent.
By the fall, Granger said, supervisors will be able to monitor individual officers’ compliance with the department’s camera policy and identify chronic violators, ensuring greater accountability.
“Maybe you consider progressive discipline at that point,” he said.
In cases where no case number or category was entered, officials often reviewed the footage, and any issues that were identified were sent to the officer’s supervisor “to ensure corrections were made.”
The report drew cautious praise from several committee members, including Linea Palmisano, who called out department officials last fall after an audit found widespread failure to turn on the devices.
“It shows a lot of progress in some ways, and this is some good work,” she said.
In a random sample of 25 officers over a three-month period, auditors found that some videos were obstructed by an officer’s jacket and a handful of times, the cameras were turned off prematurely.
“The biggest test is going to be in critical situations: Were the body cameras on?” said Council Member Steve Fletcher in a phone interview. “Because we could get to 95 percent, but if it’s the 5 percent that we actually need, then it’s not doing us any good.”
One such example, he said, was video from the shooting of Blevins, who was killed last month during a brief foot chase by officers through a north Minneapolis alley.
A state investigation into the incident is ongoing, but Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, after facing pressure from Blevins’ family and activists, said the video would be released by the end of this month.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham questioned why, despite the widespread attention that earlier audits had received, some city police officers were still failing to turn on the devices.
“At this point, it should really be muscle memory,” said Cunningham. “It’s a great increase, but it’s still not where we want to see it.”
The Police Department overhauled its body camera policy last summer in the wake of another police shooting, the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this week on behalf of Damond’s relatives, attorney Bob Bennett claimed that the officers involved, Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity, had failed to activate their body cameras as part of a “conspiracy” to cover up evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The footage might have shed light on Damond’s last moments, he said.
Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, interim park Superintendent Mary Merrill said the Park Police would release body camera footage from an incident earlier this month that ended with four Somali-American youths in handcuffs in Minnehaha Regional Park.