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Meetings reveal skepticism of Minneapolis Police Department's proposed body camera policy

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Under the current draft, an officer is supposed to activate the camera during any stops, searches, or interactions involving criminal activity.

It didn’t take long for a Minneapolis Police Department’s community listening session on body cameras to get heated.

“You’re just here to entertain us because you can’t answer our questions,” one community member accused Lt. Gregory Reinhardt, who led the March 29 session for about 30 Minneapolis residents. “What is it about technology that you think we’re so concerned about? It’s not technology, it’s the policy.”

Reinhardt, who heads the department’s business and technology unit, found himself in a series of lively exchanges throughout the two-hour meeting. By the time Dep. Chief Medaria Arradondo — who was originally meant to run the discussion — showed up five minutes after the meeting was scheduled to end, many participants accused MPD of not taking their input seriously.

“How are you supposed to run a meeting six minutes after it ends and you’re not even prepared for it?” shouted Mica Grimm of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. “It’s disrespectful to everybody who took time out of their day to make sure that they were here.”

The exchanges highlighted growing concerns by some Minneapolis residents over the MPD’s body camera program, which is set to roll out in six weeks. The meeting was the third in a series of sessions meant to allow the public to give input on how a final draft of the body camera policy might look. But with a little over a month before implementation, many community members expressed doubt that their ideas would make it into the final cut of the city's body camera protocol, and expressed skepticism the policy will do enough to enforce police accountability, which they said is the point of the program.

“It’s extra surveillance,” Grimm said. “It’s not extra accountability, which is what we want.”

Too much leeway?

Grimm said her concerns with the current policy is that officers wearing body cams ultimately decide when to turn it on and off. African American residents, particularly from north Minneapolis, no longer trust interacting with police, she said, so leaving when to record those interactions up to the officer defeats the purpose.

Instead, Grimm said she’d like to see the cameras activated for the entirety of the officers’ shifts, and only deactivated when requested by individuals for privacy concerns.

Under the current draft, an officer is supposed to activate the camera during any stops, searches, or interactions involving criminal activity. But the draft also states officers can activate their camera anytime they believe it may be appropriate. It’s also up to officers’ discretion when to deactivate their camera.

Reinhardt said they drafted the policy this way to protect certain situations when recording may jeopardize a case or a citizen’s privacy, such as dealing with shy witnesses or victims of sexual abuse, he said, or particularly while dealing with minors.

But Grimm said the draft leaves too much discretion to officers when it comes to turning the camera on and off. “If victims say they don’t want to be recorded, the officer can turn off the camera,” she said. “Other than that, it shouldn’t be up to the officer to turn them off.”

Reinhardt said that if an officer turns off a body camera in situations that policy requires they be tunred on, the officer must be able to reasonably explain why. But he said there is no disciplinary actions written into the current draft of the policy if an officer cannot properly explain his or her decision. “There are sanctions ranging from verbal reprimand to termination,” he said. “But they don’t exist yet [in the current draft].”

PCOC recommendations not included

At the request of Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau, the Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) — part of the city’s Department of Civil Rights — conducted months of research and outreach to come up with suggested best practices for MPD’s body camera program.

The 47 page report, released last September, details their suggestions on how to best implement the technology while building community trust and police accountability. But much of what was suggested by the PCOC was left out of the draft that MPD released earlier this month, according to PCOC members.

“My personal opinion on [the current draft] is that it is very far off from what we’ve originally proposed,” said Afsheen Foroozan, a member of the PCOC. “From the research that we had done, one of our key points was that police officers should not be able to review footage before they write the report.”

Under the current draft the MPD policy, however, officers are able to review their body camera footage before writing a report on an incident or arrest. In fact, one of the key highlights MPD listed in the policy draft is to “assist officer with recalling facts or other details captured by the equipment that will help them accurately articulate a chain of events when writing reports.”

Foroozan said that by having officers write their reports first before viewing footage, there’s an added level of accountability. When officers are able to review footage before writing their reports, he said, there’s a potential they can change their narrative to match the footage.

“While the audio and the video of the camera will always be the same, it’s not going to change,” Foroozan said. “The narrative of what the police officer said happened will change — what he was feeling, what he thought he observed.”

Other PCOC recommendations left out of the draft, he said, include having any updates to the body camera policy going through the PCOC before it is implemented; having explicit procedure for when an officer cannot explain why their camera was off when it should have been on; having police supervisors perform random audits to ensure officers are following procedure; and providing policy that allows citizens to be able to request an officer to turn on their camera if they’re feeling threatened.

Dep. Chief Medaria Arradondo said MPD did pick up some of the recommendations offered by the PCOC, such as officers having to wear their cameras while doing off-duty work. The MPD is continuing to look at the PCOC report, he said, along with other reports to help guide the final draft. “The pre-draft that you have right now is not finalized yet,” Arradondo told those who showed up for the listening session. “The importance of you being here tonight, the importance of everyone being here tonight, it would be absolutely irresponsible of me to not take the information, comments and concerns … to bring those back to the chief and let her know exactly what you think.”

The next community listening session is scheduled for Monday, Apr. 4 at the East Side Neighborhood Services Center in northeast Minneapolis, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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Comments (10)

Community Speaking Session

“You’re just here to entertain us because you can’t answer our questions,” one community member accused...

“What is it about technology that you think we’re so concerned about? It’s not technology, it’s the policy.”

So, who was at the wrong "meeting"?

Reviewing Footage

Police like the rest of us are "only human" and it's almost assured that there will be some small discrepancies in what they remember unaided and what video recordings show. To prohibit them from reviewing this guarantees there will be those differences which don't stem from deception but from imperfect memory, and you can't have every instance of these then thrown back in the officers faces to either discredit the case or start community protest. So, if you prohibit this review, anticipate a level of discrepancy that needs to be tolerated, much as if you had two officers both relate the same episode separately there will be small discrepancies.

Interestingly though if you think about the "release the tapes" campaign and the official resistance to do so it was because they didn't want witnesses to change their narrative to match what they saw or what they thought they saw. Some of the same people who now want to prevent the Police from reviewing the body cam coverage are the same ones who wanted the public to have that benefit as they were giving their accounts of the Jamar Clark incident.

Data Storage

Not being up to date on tech like GoPro and smart phones, I looked this up and there are cost concerns about the amount of data generated. I assume that one of those body camera can't store a whole work shift of (low or medium?) resolution video. Maybe they get uploaded periodically during the day by radio. Then there seems to be a need for dedicated personnel to manage the storage libraries. Has this expense been a factor in making the above policy?

The expense not being proven prohibitive,

...we'll gladly pay it.

After all, what is the price of a low credibility in the policing function ?? It is highly destructive to the whole community of Mpls residents.

Not cost prohibitive? Bring your checkbook to the city...

It would cost millions in data storage charges alone to store all the video that people want recorded and kept. Millions the city does not have in its budget. Minnpost should run some hard facts when discussing this issue. The data is available.

That doesn't even get into the cost of providing redacted videos upon request.

also cost prohibitive...

are the close to two million a year the city pays out to law suits over police behavior. I imagine that would decrease a lot if the cops and the people they are interacting with would know they were being filmed.

While the city wastes money on sports facilities for rich owners and wastes time and energy on plastic bags, while the police chief is chasing every camera in town and issuing threats to citizens, the legitimate need for police accountability gets squeezed out as too expensive?

My guess is that full-shift

My guess is that full-shift recording creates an impossible work situation for ANY officer (or ANY worker, for that matter). In the event of an incident where a recording is needed, any attorney worth their pay would demand as much prior recordings of the officer as possible--to determine state of mind, attitude, prior statements, etc., in order to discredit the officer and their testimony.

What job would you take if you were going to be recorded with video and audio for the full work shift?

What conversation could you have with your co-workers ? What conversation could you have about your supervisors ? What conversation could you have about prior or current cases ? Would you be able to build a relationship with your coworkers without sharing any confidences that you wouldn't want to be recorded? What conversation could you have about what is going on in front of you ? What conversations or reactions would be thrown back into your face months from now, not only for figuring out an incident, but for petty revenge by supervisors or coworkers?

It certainly would be an "East German" style workplace.

There are many sides to this issue.

Fascinating

They say it does not increase accountability... I don't think I would want to be an officer who got a serious complaint and did not have it on... Imagine if the Jamar Clark officers had opted to leave it off...(if they had them)

They are worried that the officers report may be more accurate and complete if they review the video. How is this a bad thing? I would find someway to cut the video and attach it into the report. (ie shorter reports...)

What would they do if someone like Jamar asked the officer to turn it off before the incident? Under what instances can the Officers say no to a request to turn it off?

Since this is all new cost with no offsetting cost reduction, and much of the officers time is waiting / watching, running it all day would be expensive with no benefit...

Finally, the goal is not perfection. Perfection is expensive. If perfection is 10 steps forward, it sounds like this takes them about 7 steps forward. Much better than today.

Body Cameras

I was a cop for a long time, we didn't have any kind of camera's and many times not even portable radios, but if I were a cop now the way people complain about every little thing, I would turn the body camera on when I started my shift and wouldn't turn it off until the end of my shift. People complain and protest so much they don't have any credibility anymore. Maybe every cop should just have a film crew with them 24/7. It is ridiculous how people complain. There used to be an old saying that you can't make everybody happy. That needs to be changed to, today you can't make anybody happy. I feel truly sorry for these young cops today, because they risk their health and their lives on daily basis, just to have a bunch of people who complain about them and on top of that most of the complainers are not accurate in their eyewitness accounts. Experts have found evidence to suggest that eyewitness memory is fallible..] It has long been speculated that mistaken eyewitness identification plays a major role in the wrongful conviction of innocent individuals. A growing body of research now supports this speculation, indicating that mistaken eyewitness identification is responsible for more convictions of the innocent than all other factors combined The Innocence Project determined that 75% of the 239 DNA exoneration cases had occurred due to inaccurate eyewitness testimony. That is 180 people who spent years prison because of inaccurate eyewitness testimony. It is important to inform the public about the flawed nature of eyewitness memory and the difficulties relating to its use in the criminal justice system so that eyewitness accounts are not viewed as the absolute truth.

Vocal Minority

Kenneth,
Just remember that the critical folk are just a very vocal minority. The vast majority are very thankful that the officers are out there facing the challenges/risks and doing the job that almost none of us would be willing to do for twice the money...

Personally I think all officers have to be a little crazy... Who willingly walks up to very upset or high people who may be carrying a gun or knife? I personally thank the officers for their dedication !!!