It’s bad enough that city auditors found late last summer that far too many Minneapolis cops failed to use their body cameras or turned them on infrequently. The city didn’t spend more than $8 million on the devices and training for them not to be used.
After that damning analysis, in October former Mayor Betsy Hodges and the City Council directed the Police Department to monitor body camera use and give quarterly reports in 2018. Yet despite that order, the MPD is still not fully tracking whether all officers routinely activate body cameras. It failed to provide the data it was directed to collect.
Last week, a deputy chief told the council that such a frequent and comprehensive report would be too labor-intensive to create and that the department had not yet hired staff to do the monitoring. Deputy Chief Henry Halvorson said someone has to check several databases and watch video to decide whether officers follow department policy.
So instead of complying with the directive, Halvorson said the department would analyze just 2 percent of body camera usage for each quarterly audit, starting in the second quarter.
Just what is it about “get this done’’ that the MPD doesn’t understand?
As we’ve argued previously, police departments have clear chains of command. Officers should not be able to decide whether or when to comply with an order from their bosses — in this case the mayor, the City Council and their new leader, Chief Medaria Arradondo, who fully supported body camera compliance when he took the top job last summer.
In September, the internal city audit showed that even though the number of hours recorded rose after Arradondo announced a new policy, officers still too frequently failed to turn on the cameras. A majority of officers were recording fewer than 20 percent of their hours on the job, and SWAT teams were not required to use them. That’s why the council issued its directive in early October.
As Council Member Linea Palmisano pointed out, the MPD was not asked to review every minute of camera footage. Rather, it was asked how often the cameras were not being turned on when dispatch data indicated they should have been. That’s the kind of information that could have been gleaned by repeating the analysis done for the audit.
If the MPD saw barriers to fulfilling the order, department leaders should have said so sooner and let the mayor and council know what was needed to comply. Waiting until the deadline for the report makes it appear as if department leaders were just dragging their feet.
That shouldn’t be tolerated. Citizens want more accountability and transparency from their law enforcers — especially in cases of officer-involved shootings such as the one that killed Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Body cameras are not optional pieces of equipment. They are mandatory.
Arradondo told an editorial writer on Friday that the department is making progress and that his goal is to have more data for the council in the next couple of months. He also plans to post the data online for public review.
Rank-and-file officers need to know that MPD leadership expects them to follow orders. Anything less than full compliance on body cameras is unacceptable.