By Steve Karnowski Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis police officers dispatched to a scene must activate their body cameras well before they arrive and could face progressively harsh penalties for not doing so, ranging from suspensions to firing, the police department announced Wednesday.
The department’s stricter body camera policy comes after it was criticized last summer when two officers involved in the fatal shooting of an Australian woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, failed to activate their body cameras when they were dispatched to her home. The officer who killed Damond, Mohamed Noor, has been fired and is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
“For the first time, we’re giving the body camera policy teeth by providing the first clear disciplinary structure for instances when this policy is violated,” Mayor Jacob Frey said at a news conference announcing the new rules. “It is a stronger, clearer and more precise policy.”
After Damond’s death, police Chief Medaria Arradondo instituted new rules requiring officers to hit the camera’s record button when responding to every call or traffic stop, but compliance was lackluster and he acknowledged that no officers had been disciplined for failing to comply.
Arradondo said the new policy gives officers “clearly defined expectations” and will help build trust and accountability with the public.
The new rules specify that officers must activate their cameras at least two blocks from their destinations, or immediately if dispatched to a closer incident. That includes assisting squad cars. A list of other situations also requires activation. The new rules also specify when officers can deactivate their cameras. Officers are also required to notify their supervisor if a camera malfunctions and the supervisor will decide whether the officer remains on call.
Failure to activate the camera when the rules require can now result in a 40-hour suspension for the first offense and can get an officer fired if there are aggravating factors. Similar penalties will apply if officers deactivate their cameras before the rules allow. Suspensions start at 10 hours for failing to document premature deactivations. But department officials will have discretion to consider mitigating and aggravating factors.
“Any body camera policy worth its salt must have consequences. This one does,” Frey said thumping on the podium for emphasis.
An internal audit in September found that officers were activating their cameras more often, but that use of the technology was inconsistent and some officers never turned them on at all. The City Council then instructed the department to report quarterly on compliance.
Deputy Chief Henry Halvorson conceded at a council hearing in February that the department still wasn’t tracking whether all officers were routinely using their cameras and that it hadn’t fully staffed the office that is supposed to review footage to ensure officers are complying.
Police union leaders reviewed a draft of the new policy and offered recommendations.
“We looked it over. We have no issues with it. It clearly defines the duties and expectations. … We’re good with it,” said Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation.
Arradondo also said the city will put data on its website before summer that will show citizens how well or poorly the department is complying, down to the precinct and neighborhood level.
Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African American Heritage, told reporters he wanted to recognize Frey and Arradondo for their “good work” in their short times in their positions. Arradondo became chief in August and Frey took office in January. Their predecessors both lost their jobs partly over their handling of the Damond case.
“We see in the first few months of this administration that they’re serious about working on police issues, which is really important to me and to our community,” Terrell said. “We stand here 50 years to the day after losing Martin Luther King to a sniper’s bullet, and we know that our country has very large issues around race and our state continues to face large racial disparities.”
Minneapolis launched a body camera pilot project in 2014, just months after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, and the entire department began using the technology in 2016.
The fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis in November 2015 and the ensuing street protests added impetus to the project because the two officers involved in that incident didn’t have body cameras.