Minneapolis police officers must keep their body-worn cameras turned on even during private conversations with colleagues at crime scenes, under new guidelines that department officials hope will improve transparency and help inspire greater public confidence.
Under the existing policy, officers are already required to activate the recording devices while responding to 911 calls and during most interactions with the public. But now the casual banter that often flows at crime scenes will also be fair game.
"We've seen as a community and as a police force, body camera footage increasingly plays a crucial role in understanding critical events in our community," MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a news release. "Accountability is not achieved with any single solution, but changes like this move us toward an even more transparent approach to public safety and building trust with the communities we serve."
Mayor Jacob Frey said the policy change "helps leadership provide a more complete and accurate picture during and after incidents, and puts officers in a better position to hold each other accountable."
The new rules, announced Monday afternoon, do make certain exceptions for conversations "about performance or tactics."
The issue of officers switching off their cameras prematurely surfaced during the 2019 murder trial of former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault.
During the trial, prosecutors called into question the actions of several police officers as they arrived at the scene of Damond's death, suggesting that they had intermittently turned their body cameras off to conceal their conversations about how to handle the situation.
In one video shown during trial, an officer is heard telling someone his body camera is recording: "I'm hot right now. I don't know if we're supposed to be or not," he told a colleague who approached him at the scene, apparently as a warning that his camera was rolling. Prosecutors argued that another officer, who was working as a supervisor that night but has since left the department, turned her camera on and off multiple times that night, including during a conversation with Noor.
Officers will be required to switch on their recording devices well before arriving on the scene of an emergency, with the new policy requiring activation at least two blocks away from the "service location." If dispatched to a location less than two blocks away, officers must activate their cameras immediately.
Officers first began wearing the cameras in 2016. Guidelines on their use have been rewritten more than once since then.
In 2018, the department tightened its policy on the devices' use after coming under public scrutiny when a city audit found that officers were frequently leaving their cameras off while responding to calls. The report concluded that most of the problems likely resulted from a lack of discipline for officers who flouted department rules on activating and deactivating the cameras appropriately.
Since then, usage has increased significantly, department records show.
Officers who run afoul of the policy would face discipline — ranging from a 40-hour suspension for failing to activate their cameras as required to termination for prematurely turning the devices off, particularly in cases involving use of force, said MPD spokesman John Elder.
But it is unclear how many officers have been disciplined in recent years.
Following the killing of George Floyd on a south Minneapolis street corner last spring, the department announced that officers would no longer be allowed to review footage before making a statement, a frequent request of anti-police brutality activists. The change was among a slew of reforms adopted by the department in the wake of Floyd's death — some under the direction of state authorities — that included an overhaul of the department's use-of-force policy that placed a greater emphasis on "sanctity of life" and a ban on shooting at moving vehicles.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany