Inside Denver Cops' New Body Camera Policy: No Cams for Off-Duty Officers

A body camera as seen in a Denver Police Department image. Videos, photos and more below.
A body camera as seen in a Denver Police Department image. Videos, photos and more below.
YouTube

Update: Yesterday morning, we shared information that the Denver Police Department was on the cusp of revealing its policy toward the use of body-worn cameras, or BWCs; see our previous coverage below.

Shortly thereafter, the DPD did indeed share its BWC regulations — see the document below — and while the rules reflect some of the recommendations put forward by the Office of the Independent Monitor, not all of them were adopted.

For one thing, the OIM's suggestion that off-duty officers wear the devices, too, was rejected. And while officers who don't turn on the devices during encounters with the public — something that happened frequently during a pilot program (although the specific numbers are in dispute) — will face potential discipline, the punishment begins with wrist slaps and escalates slowly.

Here's the main list of times when BWCs will be used, according to the policy document:

a. Traffic stops
b. Pedestrian, citizen and/or vehicle contacts
c. All calls requiring the presence of a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer
d. Reported weapons calls
e. All calls involving suicidal individuals
f. When engaging in a foot chase (if the BWC was not placed in EVENT mode prior to the foot chase, officers are required to place the BWC into EVENT mode as soon as the situation has stabilized and it is safe to do so)
g. Any encounter that becomes adversarial
h. When engaging in a forced entry
i. To assist in documenting warrantless or consensual searches of individuals, vehicles, buildings and other places

A sample image from a body camera worn by a Denver police officer.
A sample image from a body camera worn by a Denver police officer.

In addition, cameras will be used to record consent to search, Miranda advisements and more.

An important segment of the document notes that "once placed in EVENT mode, the BWC will remain on and not be turned off unless the initial incident that caused the activation has stabilized, upon request of the victim; or as ordered by a supervisor." Moreover, all 800 Denver police officers will wear the devices.

Not while off-duty, though. Such assignments have sometimes led to excessive-force complaints: Take claims Officer Choice Johnson pushed a man down a flight of stairs while working security at The 1Up Arcade and Bar; Johnson was initially suspended for thirty days as a result of his actions, but last month, an appeal hearing officer deemed the punishment excessive. Nonetheless, DPD Commander Magen Dodge told Fox31 that such a requirement didn't pass muster after completion of a cost-benefit analysis.

What about those officers who don't turn on the cameras as required? This happened often during the pilot program involving law enforcers at District 6. The OIM says that out of eighty uses of force during the testing period, cameras were deployed in just 21 of them — 26 percent. And while the department's numbers shifted, the most recent digits show that only 33 of 46 such incidents had "some sort of video" — a description that leaves open the possibility that only parts of these exchanges were recorded.

An officer triggering his body camera to begin recording, as seen in a Denver police video.
An officer triggering his body camera to begin recording, as seen in a Denver police video.
YouTube

As the Independent Monitor recommended, the DPD has formalized punishment for non-compliant officers when it comes to BWCs. But whether it's tough enough will be a matter of debate. The document states:

Failure to adhere to the recording requirements of this policy will result in the following discipline:

1. 1st violation in a 12-month period: Written Reprimand

2. 2nd violation in a 12-month period: 1 fined day
Concurrent with the second violation, an in-depth audit of the officer’s data usage will be conducted and documented. This documentation will be forwarded to the Professional Standards Unit and will generate a formal Personnel Assessment System (PAS) review.

3. 3rd violation in a 12-month period is considered a repeated violation and will generate a formal disciplinary case

4. Purposeful, flagrant or repeated violations will result in more severe disciplinary action. At any time during review, if deemed necessary, violations can be removed from the scheduled discipline above and transitioned to a formal investigation governed by the discipline matrix.

All officers are expected to be wearing body cameras by later this year.

Look below to see a Fox31 piece about the latest developments, followed by the DPD policy document and our previous coverage.

Original post, 9:25 a.m. September 8: Sources reveal that the Denver Police Department is on the cusp of announcing its policy regarding the use of body cameras.

The regulations and procedures will be scrutinized closely by DPD observers and critics in light of disagreements over data about how often participants in a DPD pilot program actually recorded interactions with the public — including use of force incidents.

A glasses-mounted camera as seen in a Denver Police Department video on view below, along with documents and more.
A glasses-mounted camera as seen in a Denver Police Department video on view below, along with documents and more.
YouTube

In a report by the Office of Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell, who was just named to the American Bar Association task force on body cameras, data suggests that most use-of-force incidents weren't recorded. The DPD disputes the figures, although its own numbers have shifted over time.

Moreover, we're told the type of body cameras the department has agreed to purchase from Taser International require officers to proactively turn them on — making the question of discipline for officers who chronically choose not to do so that much more important.

The DPD has heavily hyped its use of body cameras, with a notable example being an August 2014 edition of Rachel Maddow's MSNBC program. The show featured an interview with Chief Robert White and images of Denver mayor Michael Hancock wearing a glasses-mounted camera.

Denver mayor Michael Hancock, with Denver Police Chief Robert White, wearing a glasses-mounted camera as seen on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC program last year.
Denver mayor Michael Hancock, with Denver Police Chief Robert White, wearing a glasses-mounted camera as seen on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC program last year.
MSNBC

However, the OIM 2014 annual report, released this past March, suggests that DPD officers wearing body cameras for a District 6 pilot program weren't routinely utilizing the technology.

The entire document is on view below, but here's an excerpt, which refers to body-worn cameras as BWCs:

A primary purpose of BWCs is to record police uses of force in interactions with the public. Yet, of the 80 uses of force that occurred in District 6 or involved officers from District 6 working outside their District during the pilot project, only 21 (26%) were recorded by BWCs, while the remainder went unrecorded.

Here's a graphic on the topic from the report.

Inside Denver Cops' New Body Camera Policy: No Cams for Off-Duty Officers (4)
Denver.gov

The DPD pushed back against this assertion, tweeting on March 10 that the "actual numbers" involved 53 use-of-force incidents, of which 46 were recorded.

One week later, on March 17, those actual numbers got another tweak. During an OIM presentation to the Denver City Council's Safety and Well-Being Committee, Commander Magen Dodge said that of 46 uses of force, 72 percent, or 33 incidents, "had some sort of video."

That statement is captured video on view below.

Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell.
Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell.
File photo

In any event, the OIM made a series of nine recommendations about body-worn cameras in its report. The first one reads:

The OIM recommends that the DPD provide additional training on the importance of activating BWCs prior to initiating citizen contacts, rather than after-the-fact, when situations may escalate or deteriorate too quickly to permit BWC activation.

The seventh deals with the necessity for discipline against those who ignore the policy:

The OIM recommends that the DPD provide notice of the possible disciplinary penalties for failing to adhere to the Body Worn Camera Policy in its policies and in the DPD Disciplinary Handbook.

Upcoming Events

We should find out soon how much of the body-camera advice the DPD will choose to take.

Look below to see a 2014 Denver police video about body cameras; the 2014 OIM annual report; a document that synopsizes the findings;and the March video of a city council committee meeting about body cameras, among other topics. The comment about 46 uses of force is made at around the 58:35 mark.



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