De­lays get­ting OKC po­lice equipped with cam­eras causes some con­cerns

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOSH WAL­LACE Staff Writer jwal­lace@ok­la­homan.com

Al­most three years af­ter the city coun­cil ap­proved their use, more than a year af­ter set­tling a dis­pute with its union over pri­vacy con­cerns and sev­eral months af­ter re­ceiv­ing two grants to help buy them, Ok­la­homa City po­lice still are not fully equipped with body cam­eras.

“We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to get those on the street as soon as pos­si­ble,” said Capt. Bo Mathews, a spokesman for the Ok­la­homa City Po­lice De­part­ment. “There have been a few set­backs, but we’re con­tin­u­ing to go for­ward with it.”

At least one area civil jus­tice ac­tivist ex­pressed con­cern about the slow pace of the project.

“The fact that it has not been com­pleted in what I feel is an ex­treme amount of time is dis­ap­point­ing,” said the Rev. Sheri Dick­er­son, a Black Lives Mat­ter OKC co-founder.

“It’s dis­heart­en­ing and it causes con­cerns in sit­u­a­tions … where lives are lost. Fam­i­lies ... don’t have an­swers to their ques­tions and they should,” Dick­er­son said.

Body cam­era video can pro­vide cru­cial ev­i­dence for pros­e­cu­tors, in­clud­ing whether

of­fi­cers are jus­ti­fied in their use of force.

Last month, Ok­la­homa County District At­tor­ney David Prater cited body cam­era footage as a key fac­tor in his de­ci­sion to file a sec­ond-de­gree mur­der charge against an Ok­la­homa City po­lice of­fi­cer in­volved in the Novem­ber fa­tal shoot­ing of a sui­ci­dal man in south­west Ok­la­homa City. It was the first time Prater has charged an Ok­la­homa City po­lice of­fi­cer in con­nec­tion with a fa­tal shoot­ing since be­ing elected in 2006.

Fits and starts

A num­ber of starts and stops de­layed roll­out of the full pro­gram, Mathews said, in­clud­ing a dis­pute with the po­lice union, an ar­bi­tra­tor-or­dered sus­pen­sion of the pi­lot pro­gram and de­lays from the man­u­fac­turer when the de­part­ment up­graded their orig­i­nal cam­eras.

The Ok­la­homa City Coun­cil first ap­proved the de­part­ment’s re­quest for the cam­eras in Fe­bru­ary 2015. That De­cem­ber, they signed off on a $171,550 con­tract to buy 102 of the de­vices.

But the pro­gram al­ready had hit its first snag that Septem­ber when the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 123 filed a griev­ance against the de­part­ment’s plan for how the cam­eras and footage would be used.

De­spite the griev­ance, the de­part­ment im­ple­mented a pi­lot pro­gram in Jan­uary 2016, out­fit­ting 100 of­fi­cers with the de­vices. Less than six months later, that pro­gram was sus­pended af­ter the ar­bi­tra­tor sided with the union and ruled the de­part­ment’s body cam­era pol­icy vi­o­lated the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment.

Chief among the union’s ob­jec­tions was the per­ceived abil­ity of su­per­vi­sors to view an of­fi­cer’s body cam­era footage at will.

John Ge­orge, pres­i­dent of FOP Lodge 123, told The Ok­la­homan at the time that he was con­cerned a su­per­vi­sor might use the video to try to “find some­thing wrong” on a sub­or­di­nate the su­per­vi­sor might not like.

In late Novem­ber 2016, both sides came to an agree­ment and the pro­gram was re­in­stated with new guide­lines.

Of­fi­cers now are re­quired to ac­ti­vate the cam­eras when con­tact­ing peo­ple in pub­lic places, be­fore de­tain­ing some­one or us­ing force, be­fore ex­it­ing their pa­trol cars on high-pri­or­ity calls, dur­ing pur­suits or so­bri­ety tests, when they’re asked by a su­per­vi­sor and “in other sit­u­a­tions.”

Of­fi­cers are not al­lowed to ac­ti­vate the cam­eras when in­ter­view­ing vic­tims or wit­nesses or “other in­volved or re­port­ing par­ties,” in sit­u­a­tions where a per­son would have a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion of pri­vacy or in a health­care fa­cil­ity and “in other sit­u­a­tions.”

It wasn't im­me­di­ately clear what "other sit­u­a­tions" might in­clude.

A call for cam­eras

Equip­ping po­lice with body cam­eras came into promi­nence across the U.S. sev­eral years ago af­ter sev­eral de­part­ments found their use led to a re­duc­tion of pub­lic com­plaints about of­fi­cer be­hav­ior. The calls for body cam­eras only in­creased fol­low­ing the 2014 fa­tal shoot­ing of a black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, by a Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, po­lice of­fi­cer.

Brown’s death led to wide­spread un­rest and the fam­ily ad­vo­cated for the use of the cam­eras in a state­ment ask­ing peo­ple to “join with us in our cam­paign to en­sure that ev­ery po­lice of­fi­cer work­ing the streets in this coun­try wears a body cam­era.”

An Ok­la­homa City po­lice spokesman told The Ok­la­homan at the in­tro­duc­tion of the city’s pi­lot pro­gram that they be­gan look­ing into body­worn cam­eras two years be­fore Brown’s death.

Trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and re­as­sur­ing the pub­lic are the fun­da­men­tal goals of the pro­gram, Mathews said.

“The pub­lic would feel more re­lieved and it would help them feel more se­cure in the things that we re­port as an agency if you had … video that backs it up ev­ery time,” Mathews said.

“There’s a lot of things that peo­ple ex­pect, but I think that this would def­i­nitely help the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the com­mu­nity and the po­lice de­part­ment. They would feel safe that we’re re­port­ing ev­ery­thing that we have and in­ves­ti­gat­ing ev­ery­thing in a proper man­ner.”

In De­cem­ber, Prater, the district at­tor­ney, charged Sgt. Keith Pa­trick Sweeney with sec­ond-de­gree mur­der in the Nov. 15 fa­tal shoot­ing of Dustin Pi­geon, 29. Body-cam­era footage

worn by another of­fi­cer cap­tured the en­counter and led Prater to de­ter­mine that Sweeney’s claims that his life were in dan­ger were un­founded.

Pros­e­cu­tors said Sweeney open­ing fire on Pi­geon was “un­rea­son­able, un­jus­ti­fied and per­pe­trated in an im­me­di­ately dan­ger­ous man­ner …” ac­cord­ing to a court fil­ing.

Video from the Pi­geon shoot­ing seem­ingly al­lowed for a faster in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with Prater’s de­ci­sion com­ing less than a month af­ter the in­ci­dent, Mathews said.

“It was pretty clear," Mathews said.

That wasn't the case in Septem­ber when po­lice fa­tally shot a deaf and men­tally dis­abled man. In that in­ci­dent, nei­ther Lt. Matthew Lind­sey nor Sgt. Christo­pher Barnes wore a body cam­era when they en­coun­tered Magdiel Sanchez, 34, out­side his southeast Ok­la­homa City home.

Po­lice said Sanchez ag­gres­sively ap­proached the of­fi­cers wield­ing a short length of steel pipe. Sev­eral neigh­bors who wit­nessed the in­ci­dent said they yelled at the of­fi­cers that Sanchez was deaf and could not un­der­stand the com­mands the of­fi­cers were giv­ing.

Without body cam­era video, Prater had to rely on other ev­i­dence to de­ter­mine whether the shoot­ing was jus­ti­fied. The de­ci­sion took more than three months, with Prater re­ly­ing on state­ments from of­fi­cers and wit­nesses at the scene and se­cu­rity cam­era video from a neigh­bor­ing home that didn’t cap­ture the ac­tual shoot­ing.

He ul­ti­mately cleared the two of­fi­cers, say­ing their ac­tions were “law­ful, rea­son­able and not ex­ces­sive.”

“It is due to no fault of the of­fi­cers that the mat­ter ended vi­o­lently,” Prater said at a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the out­come of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The pro­gram

As of early Jan­uary, the de­part­ment had 160 body-worn cam­eras in use by ac­tive pa­trol of­fi­cers. By Feb. 16, the de­part­ment is set to have 345, enough to out­fit an en­tire work shift of of­fi­cers, who would then swap the cam­eras dur­ing shift changes.

The de­vices, a lit­tle big­ger than a cig­a­rette pack and weigh­ing about 5 ounces, are ca­pa­ble of con­tin­u­ously record­ing up to nine hours of high­def­i­ni­tion video, which Mathews said is kept any­where from 60 days to an in­def­i­nite pe­riod of time.

In­clud­ing the amount orig­i­nally spent in De­cem­ber 2015, the pro­gram cost is set at $683,325, paid from the city’s gen­eral fund, a train­ing fund, sales tax and two fed­eral grants.

Mathews said su­per­vi­sors are un­der­go­ing train­ing this month and all des­ig­nated uni­formed of­fi­cers and sergeants will be trained on the cam­era pro­ce­dures next month.

Ac­cord­ing to the guide­lines agreed upon by the de­part­ment and union, af­ter train­ing, each of­fi­cer has a 90-day grace pe­riod for un­in­ten­tion­ally fail­ing to ac­ti­vate the cam­era when re­quired. A pat­tern of fail­ing to ac­ti­vate the cam­era dur­ing the grace pe­riod could re­sult in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­ing launched and po­ten­tial cor­rec­tive ac­tion.

Say­ing he un­der­stood the frus­tra­tion on the de­lays as­so­ci­ated in fully im­ple­ment­ing the pro­gram,

Ok­la­homa City Po­lice Chief Bill Citty said it was im­por­tant to get it right.

“I don’t like it ei­ther, but we want to make as few mis­takes as pos­si­ble dur­ing the ini­tial im­ple­men­ta­tion. We will be bet­ter off in the long run,” Citty said.

Dick­er­son, of Black Live Mat­ters OKC, said the cam­eras are a step in the right di­rec­tion in terms of fos­ter­ing bet­ter re­la­tions

be­tween po­lice and the com­mu­nity they serve. How­ever, she said, other ac­tions are nec­es­sary.

“It’s not just the cam­era,” she said.

“I think we’ll be more at ease when the process is ac­tu­ally com­pleted and we know that there has been ap­pro­pri­ate train­ing for the body cam­eras as well as sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing and racial and eth­nic­ity eq­uity train­ing amongst of­fi­cers.”

[PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Ok­la­homa County District At­tor­ney David Prater watches video from an of­fi­cer’s body cam dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Dec. 5, when he out­lined the charge filed against an Ok­la­homa City po­lice of­fi­cer in the shoot­ing death of a sui­ci­dal per­son. Po­lice Sgt. Keith Pa­trick Sweeney, 32, is charged with sec­ond-de­gree mur­der in Ok­la­homa County District Court. Sweeney fa­tally shot Dustin Pi­geon, 29, early Nov. 15 af­ter the vic­tim called 911 threat­en­ing sui­cide, po­lice re­ported. Of­fi­cers re­sponded to a house in south­west Ok­la­homa City and found Pi­geon hold­ing a bot­tle of lighter fluid and a lighter, threat­en­ing to set him­self on fire, ac­cord­ing to po­lice records.

[PHOTO PRO­VIDED BY FAM­ILY OF MAGDIEL SANCHEZ]

Magdiel Sanchez, 34, who was shot and killed by po­lice on Sept. 19, 2017.

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