Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey talks about the city's updated body camera policy at a press conference on April 4. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Minneapolis updates body camera policy

Updated: April 25, 2018 - 11:15 am

Minneapolis police officers must activate their body cameras at least two blocks away from the location of any calls for service, per an updated policy city leaders announced Wednesday.

Officers must keep their body cameras powered on and ready to activate at all times during their shifts, the policy says. Once recording, officers must keep their cameras active until the conclusion of an event, and they must document cases in which they deactivate the cameras early.

“This is a stronger, clearer and more precise policy,” Mayor Jacob Frey said at a press conference on Wednesday.

The updated policy comes nearly nine months after ex-Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor fatally shot Fulton resident Justine Damond in the alley behind her home. Neither Noor nor his partner had his body camera activated during the shooting, for which Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has charged Noor with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Former Police Chief Janeé Harteau resigned less than a week after the shooting at then-Mayor Betsy Hodges’ request, and Hodges subsequently named Medaria Arradondo acting chief. The City Council approved his appointment on a permanent basis in August.

Arradondo updated the Police Department’s body camera policy within a week of becoming acting chief, requiring officers to activate their cameras for all dispatches. He said Wednesday that the newly updated policy provides more specificity than the previous version.

“This is far more robust and more clearly defined than we ever had before,” he said.

Under the updated policy, an officer assigned a camera must keep it charged between shifts so it is fully charged at the start of a shift. The officer must keep the camera powered on at all times during his or her shift, including if working the front desk of a precinct. He or she must also perform a check at the beginning of a shifts to ensure the camera is working.

An officer who is dispatched to a call less than two blocks away must immediately activate the camera. The officer must keep the camera in record mode until either he or she or the citizen has left the scene or until he or she has finished transporting a suspect into custody.

An officer who needs to deactivate his or her camera before an event ends must narrate the reason for doing so prior to deactivating it. The officer must document the reason for early deactivation if he or she subsequently prepares a police report. If the officer does not prepare a report, he or she has to document the reason for early deactivation in the department’s computer-aided dispatch system or call it into its emergency communications center.

Officers who fail to activate when required or deactivated their cameras early face disciplinary action that could include suspension or termination.

The policy requires officers to upload all camera footage at the end of their shifts by placing their cameras into their assigned docking stations. It also requires officers to categorize the nature of the recorded incidents before the end of a shift.

Frey said the precision of the updated policy will benefit officers in addition to providing increased transparency and accountability to the public. Arradondo said the updated policy address issues that it did not previously, such as specific disciplinary consequences and procedures for when the cameras are not working.

When asked how the new policy would have changed the Damond situation, Arradondo said he wants to focus on what the department can do going forward.

He also said officers are accepting the technology, saying it has been a helpful tool.

“This is an important piece of technology that our communities have asked for,” he said of body cameras, adding that they help officers gather evidence at scenes and capture officers’ engagement with the community.

“It tells a story. It’s not the complete story, but it tells an important story,” he said.

Ryan Patrick, a legal analyst in the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review, said his office was included right away in revising the policy, noting that the Minneapolis Police Department was open to input.

Cathy Spann, executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council in North Minneapolis, told a story of police searching outreach workers with her organization without permission after a shooting in the neighborhood in 2014. She said the officers assumed the workers were involved in the shooting, despite them carrying clipboards and surveys and being part of a group.

“No one asked them questions,” Spann said. “No one took a moment to say, ‘are you representing an agency?’ They actually frisked them.”

Spann said the outreach workers are so used to being treated poorly that they kept working, adding that she did not find out about the incident until the next day. She said she could not understand why the police stopped and frisked them, adding that her organization called several community meetings afterward.

“What had happened is that when a community is so used to being violated, what happens is that they believe it is part of the norm,” she said. “But it is not.”

Spann said she thinks the outcome of the situation would have been different if the police had had body cameras in 2014. She said the footage of the situation could have potentially led to disciplinary action, adding that she supports the use of body cameras to build community and police relationships.

Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African American Heritage, challenged leaders to think more broadly about what it takes to produce safe communities. He said leaders should think about the resources that communities need, such as jobs, housing and child care, to make officers’ lives a little more predictable.

“Those are things that create safety communities,” he said. “Ironically it’s not cameras or guns or use of force policies.”