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

More than a few residents are skeptical the current draft of the MPD’s body cam policy does enough to enforce police accountability.

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

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.”

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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.

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“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.