Re­port finds body-cam­era pol­icy lack­ing

Al­low­ing cops to pre­view tape puts peo­ple’s rights at risk, non­profit says.

Star Tribune - - AROUND THE METRO - By LI­BOR JANY li­bor.jany@star­tri­ Li­bor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twit­ter:@StribJany

Min­neapo­lis’ po­lice body cam­era pol­icy lacks ad­e­quate pro­tec­tions against po­ten­tial abuses of power, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port on the de­vices’ use at the na­tion’s largest po­lice de­part­ments.

The re­port, put out jointly by the Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights and Up­turn Inc. re­search, said that in par­tic­u­lar the prac­tice in Min­neapo­lis and most other big-city de­part­ments of al­low­ing of­fi­cers to re­view body cam­era footage be­fore fil­ing a re­port un­der­mines the cam­eras’ po­ten­tial for greater ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency.

It “cre­ates an il­lu­sion of ac­cu­racy,” po­ten­tially dis­tort­ing of­fi­cers’ rec­ol­lec­tions of what hap­pened dur­ing an en­counter, and “un­duly in­flates” their cred­i­bil­ity, said Har­lan Yu, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Up­turn, a D.C.-based non­profit that fo­cuses on so­cial jus­tice and tech­nol­ogy. Min­neapo­lis isn’t alone. In fact, the re­port says most de­part­ments al­low their of­fi­cers to re­view body cam­era footage to freshen their mem­ory of an in­ci­dent, in­clud­ing af­ter deadly force is used.

Such un­fet­tered ac­cess can put peo­ple’s rights at risk and strains po­lice cred­i­bil­ity, the re­port said.

The re­port lauded Min­neapo­lis’ trans­parency for mak­ing its pol­icy avail­able on­line and for tak­ing pre­cau­tions to pre­vent tam­per­ing with video ev­i­dence. The depart­ment was also cred­ited for re­quir­ing that the de­vices be turned on dur­ing most pub­lic en­coun­ters, rather than leav­ing it to an of­fi­cer’s dis­cre­tion, a prac­tice that has been adopted by most big de­part­ments.

Bar­ring of­fi­cers’ ac­cess was one of sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions of a 2015 Po­lice Con­duct Over­sight Com­mis­sion re­port that was considered and ul­ti­mately re­jected by the depart­ment as it was craft­ing its cam­era pol­icy, said Teresa Nel­son, the Min­nesota Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union’s le­gal di­rec­tor.

“I think that that is a huge is­sue and it’s some­thing that we had to push in the Leg­is­la­ture as well,” Nel­son said.

A bet­ter ap­proach, the re­port’s au­thors con­cluded, was re­quir­ing of­fi­cers to write their re­ports be­fore view­ing the footage, and then al­low­ing them to file a sup­ple­men­tal re­port af­ter watch­ing the video. St. Paul was one of only a dozen large agen­cies of the 75 stud­ied to em­brace the so-called “clean­re­port­ing” process, al­though not for all in­ci­dents.

Min­neapo­lis echoed other po­lice agen­cies by ar­gu­ing that of­fi­cers should be able to view the footage to en­sure their re­ports are ac­cu­rate.

“At this time, we have not seen any ma­jor con­cerns as it re­lates to of­fi­cers hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to re­view their body cam­era footage to try to write re­ports as ac­cu­rately as pos­si­ble,” Min­neapo­lis Po­lice Chief Medaria Ar­radondo said Tues­day through a spokesman.

The re­port’s au­thors also warned about the pri­vacy con­cerns sur­round­ing the use of bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy, such as fa­cial recog­ni­tion. While law en­force­ment of­fi­cials en­vi­sion one day us­ing bio­met­ric data to more eas­ily iden­tify crim­i­nals, some worry about its po­ten­tial for abuse.

JEFF WHEELER • Star Tri­bune

Most de­part­ments across the coun­try al­low po­lice to re­view footage be­fore fil­ing re­ports, the re­port said.

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