Body cam rules are frequently not being followed by Minneapolis officers

A review of the Minneapolis Police Department's body cam use was released Tuesday.

Minneapolis police officers are getting better at following body cam guidelines, but there are still a number of serious issues – including cops not turning them on when they're supposed to, and not explaining why.

This comes from a review done by the city's Internal Audit Department, released Tuesday morning for a City Council committee meeting.

Body cams first started rolling out to Minneapolis police officers in July of 2016, and were deployed to the entire force that October.

Police personnel have to follow guidelines for when the cameras are activated, how the data is uploaded, how the video is organized, and more. 

The activation policy was broadened by new Police Chief Medaria Arradondo on July 29, 2017, requiring the cameras to be turned on any time a cop is on the way to a call

This audit covers both periods – the old policy (pre July 29, 2017) and new policy (July 29, 2017 onward). The point of the review is to find out what's not working and suggest fixes.

Some of the findings

Here are just a few of the notable findings from the audit.

The audit looked at a sampling of incidents in which an officer should have turned on their body cam under the old policy. But in 35 percent of those reports, there was no video – indicating the camera wasn't activated.

The number got better under the new policy, when the number of video-less files fell to 29 percent.

But in all the cases where there was no video, officers weren't documenting why, even though they're supposed to.

The cameras, when they're powered on, will constantly log the previous 30 seconds. So if an officer hits record, that video will include the half-minute before the record button was hit, in addition to the filmed footage.

The review found some officers would have the camera completely powered off, and only turn it on when hitting record – meaning the previous 30 seconds couldn't be automatically captured.

This actually got worse when the new policy was enacted. Under the old policy, 15 percent of sampled videos didn't include the 30-second pre-recording. After the new policy took affect, it jumped to 22 percent.

Explaining deactivations was also a problem. Officers, if they stop recording before the end of a call or incident, are supposed to narrate why they're doing so before hitting the off button. 

Twenty-two percent of sampled videos under the old policy ended before the incident was done, and of that group, 7 out of every 10 didn't include a narrated reason.

With the new policy, 12 percent of the sampled videos ended early – half didn't include a reason. (Both figures are an improvement from the old policy.)

In addition, the audit found SWAT teams weren't using the body cams, even though they should have been; there hasn't been sufficient review of the videos; tagging the footage for the database is inconsistent; body cams aren't always being checked before a shift like they're supposed to; and the footage isn't always uploaded immediately after a shift.

'We still have a ways to go'

The body cameras are still relatively new – so the department is learning, Arradondo stressed Monday ahead of the audit's release.

"We still have a ways to go, and so I don't want to celebrate or be victorious at least in terms of this very small snapshot," he said. "But with any new policy change it's going to take time."

On Tuesday in an email statement, Arradondo reiterated his thoughts, saying they "want to make sure that we’re using this equipment in the best manner that we possibly can," so he's looking forward to reading the report. (He hadn't done so as of Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson said.) 

"We want to make sure our officers are equipped with the best equipment and our community can feel confident that we’re using it in the manner it was meant to be," Arradondo added.

Ward 3 Council Member Jacob Frey said Monday evening there were "major deficiencies" in the body cam policy, adding he hopes the audit shows the July 29 policy change shows "better and more consistent use" and over sight.

And his fellow Council Member Linea Palmisano of Ward 13 was pretty critical of the findings when asked by the Star Tribune.

The City Council's Audit Committee on Tuesday morning referred the report to the public safety committee, which is set to meet Wednesday. The committee also ordered the Audit Department to work with MPD on implementing solutions to the issues.

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