Oversight Board Report On DC Police Cameras Contradicts Earlier Report's Claims

from the by-'activate,'-do-you-mean-'not-do-a-damn-thing?' dept

Less than a month after a first report was delivered on Washington, DC police body camera use, a second one has arrived. And it seems to contradict some assertions made in the first report.

The first report was put together by an extension of DC’s government called the Lab@DC. It showed body camera use doing almost nothing to curtail use of force by officers. This seemed to undercut the notion body cameras can be a tool of accountability. But they never will be — not if the agencies using them remain uninterested in punishing officers for misconduct.

The Lab@DC report stated officers — more than 2,000 of them — weren’t observed repeatedly or intentionally violating body camera activation policies.

Other researchers have suggested that BWCs may fail to affect outcomes because of nonadherence: officers, for a variety of reasons, may not use their assigned cameras according to departmental policy. They may fail to turn on the camera, for example. We have no indication that non-adherence was a widespread problem in this study. For 98% of the days in 2016, MPD averaged at least one video (and often many more) per call for service associated with a treatment officer. Further, even for the 2% of days in 2016 in which the number of videos uploaded was less than the number of incidents for which we would expect them, the difference is minimal, with 96% average adherence based on our measure.

The latest report, however, comes to the opposite conclusion. This one [PDF], put together by DC’s police oversight board, shows plenty of nonadherence. (via FourthAmendment.com)

More than a third of cases investigated by a D.C. police oversight board after complaints were made about officers’ conduct this past year involved officers who did not properly use their body-worn cameras during those incidents, according to a report made public Tuesday.

Some officers turned the cameras on too late, others too early, the report from the Office of Police Complaints found. In 13 percent of the cases, at least one officer at a crime scene or incident failed to turn on the camera, though colleagues did.

This is causing problems with accountability. Michael G. Tobin, the director of the Office of Police Complaints, says these “failures” sometimes compromise entire internal investigations. But he’s also quick to excuse the officers, citing the newness of the technology.

The “newness” may contribute to some unintentional failure to follow policy, but it’s not as though the department’s body camera policy is full of contradictory instructions on activations.

MPD General Order SPT-302.13 specifies that “[m]embers, including primary, secondary, and assisting members, shall start their BWC recordings as soon as a call is initiated via radio or communication from OUC [Office of Unified Communications] on their mobile data computer (MDC), or at the beginning of any self-initiated police action.”

Cameras should be rolling for pretty much any officer interaction with the public. The problem for DC police oversight — and the public itself — is that these activation failures compromise investigations of police misconduct. To investigators inside and outside the department, there’s no discernible difference between forgetting to turn on a camera and deliberately leaving a camera off. The small upside is the 2,800 cameras in use, which lowers the chance that all responding officers will fail to produce footage.

The camera policy doesn’t leave activation to officer discretion. But the hardware does, and that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Surprisingly, it’s the local police union that’s calling for additional accountability measures.

Police Sgt. Matthew Mahl, the chairman of the police union, said he plans to ask the department for new equipment that would automatically turn on body cameras when a gun is removed from the holster.

That will help cover cases where deadly force is threatened or deployed. But there are a lot of misconduct and excessive force complaints that will fall through the “gun out, camera on” cracks.

The combination of both reports suggests cameras still aren’t fixing law enforcement. Too many officers still feel the equipment is optional, even when it’s issued at the start of every shift and clipped to their chests for the next 12 hours. If there’s no downturn in force deployment, it’s because no one’s made it clear the absence of footage should be nearly as damning as the existence of damning footage.

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Comments on “Oversight Board Report On DC Police Cameras Contradicts Earlier Report's Claims”

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Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Be more careful with your “facts.”

It is permissible for a police department to have a policy that bars individuals who are intelligent, but it is not necessary for police departments to require a limit on applicant intelligence.

Many police forces require after post high school academic work. You can google “police hiring post education.”

This particular rumor (that intelligent individuals could not police officers) on a in the 2nd circuit, which ruled that

“Jordan sued the city alleging discrimination, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld that it wasn’t discrimination. “Why?” you might ask. Because New London Police Department applied the same standard to everyone who applied to be a cop there.


Wolfie0827 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Ok, No one here is saying that police force “discriminate.”

They do this to all. The testing is geared towards weeding out those with an intelligence higher than average, so the courts were right.

That doesn’t mean that the police force doesn’t weed out high intelligence. Just means they do it to everyone not just select few.

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It is not a “known fact” that police are required to have limited intellectual capacity. Many police candidates pay to take courses that will help them score more highly on the mentation portion of the testing.

Google “police preparation courses.”

Merely repeating that an occult practice is widespread is not proof of anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: cultural resistance in PDs

Technology (like cop body cams) is NOT the solution to our major “cop problem”.

This widespread cop-problem is that cops often do not themselves obey the laws we hired them to enforce.

Cops get away with this because prosecutors, judges, and juries routinely give cops a pass on their crimes. Legislators have also given extensive legal (but unconstitutional) immunities to cops.

The cop internal “culture” is naturally aggressive/bullying and self-protective against the general public. Cop leadership and supervision is just as bad as the street cops. Bad behavior among most cops has greatly expanded in this absurdly permissive environment.

There is NOBODY in government who will force cops to use body-cams properly and NOBODY who will use such video to make cops behave and obey the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Good point. Leos seem over eager to utilize some of their new toys while not so much others. For example, they love driving around in their tanks, probably dreaming about crushing a few demonstrators and some vehicles. But flash bangs seem to be their fav. But the cams that document their activities .. well, you’ve heard the excuses – some rather juvenile, but they seem to be given free reign and allowed to ignore policy and procedure. Great! – That means we all can also ignore all that useless crap also – lol

Anonmylous says:


Or, maybe we could simply have the camera activate once the officer steps out of his vehicle. If its personal time, or a bathroom break, then he has to manually turn the camera off. Simple. And I bet the number of officers “forgetting” to turn the camera off would be a lot closer to 100% than the number who fail to turn them on currently.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a New Scientist article on BWCs this month which is worth reading too.

We need to know which way the needle swings as the “newness” factor wears off.

So far it seems the initial gains up front are being lost over the longer-term.

That will be terribly deflating news for the sellers, the buyers, and the public.

It is not straightforward to study the impact of BWCs out in the wild. The information being provided by PDs to external researchers seems inconsistent and opaque. If they are not given more complete access then the results from BWC studies will remain patchy at best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Video activation

If it is ok to put cams in school bathrooms, which apparently it is to some folk, then these same folk should be totally ok with cop body cams always on – even when they have to relieve themselves.

I imagine that this concept might be too obscure for these same individuals to understand or perhaps they are being paid to not understand – idk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Video activation

If it is ok to put cams in school bathrooms, which apparently it is to some folk,

You are missing an important part of that plan, they will only be placed in the student bathrooms, and not the staff bathrooms. That is because those in charge deserve privacy, while those they lord it it over do not.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: You must have video to prove you were working!

I’d take it one step farther and tie their legal authority to the camera.

If the camera is on, then they have the legal authority of a police officer.

If the camera is off, then they have no more rights or authority than any other random person on the street, potentially even leading to charges of impersonating an officer if they try to exercise the legal authority of one while the camera wasn’t running.

If they have a very real incentive to make sure that the camera is on and working then they are much less likely to ‘forget’ to turn it on when footage might be inconvenient.

Anonymous Coward says:

new equipment that would automatically turn on body cameras when a gun is removed from the holster.

What, they want to verify the marksmanship of the officer?

In all too many cases, this is entirely too late. Why did the officer draw his weapon? We will never know, because the camera only activated when he drew.

But then… Why did the officer fire to the side? What threat did he see? Again, we don’t know, because the body camera was pointed forward.

Did the officer plant those drugs under the seat with slight-of-hand? We can’t tell, because his had wasn’t in the frame until he withdrew it from under the seat.

Did the suspect actually resist? We can’t know, because the officer who DID turn his camera on was behind the others, and they were saying "stop resisting".

See also Simple Justice: "but for video"

Anonymous Coward says:

cameras still aren't fixing law enforcement

Cameras will NEVER “fix law enforcement”. DUH!

Accountability fixes this problem, plain and simple. And not just accountability of the person with the gun and badge.

Personal accountability all around is going to be needed before this gets any better. Accountability on the part of badged thugs who are allowed to disobey the law with impunity (not just white ones, either). Accountability on the part of citizenry to do what you’re told when a law enforcement office engages with you and deal with the ‘injustice’ later.

There is a severe lack of respect for authority in this nation, and it breeds the thug response many in law enforcement walk around with. Body cameras can help us to catch this systemic attitude and work to correct it — either by proper training or a culling of the police force, but if the citizenry behave as if they have the right to question every request made by a LEO, up to and including physical confrontation, the gun pulling isn’t going to stop.

The problem with this one statement, Tim, is that it implies you can remove the human element from this and it will be ‘fixed’. Who is reviewing the hours of footage that DO exist? Where is the process to take that footage and have constructive, exhortative counsel provided, as opposed to a continual culture of rebuke and ‘beatings will continue until morale improves’?

Unless there is a cultural shift in LE agencies that there is a need for continuous improvement, and a positive promotion of that process, as opposed to a negative bludgeoning over every perceived wrong-doing by an officer, no attitudes will change, and LEOs will not turn on the cameras, and will continue to not fix anything.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We have a problem in our law enforcement community, but not every cop is a Wyatt Earp gun pulling maniac just looking for a human equivalent of ‘Duck Hunt’. Not every citizen is a crack-smoking, PCP rage induced lunatic seeking immortality in a grainy shaky-cam video. But we have a spectrum where those two realities certainly fall.

Expecting a camera to fix that reality, and expecting that it is ONLY law enforcement that needs fixing only exacerbates the overall problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: cameras still aren't fixing law enforcement

“Accountability on the part of citizenry to do what you’re told when a law enforcement office engages with you and deal with the ‘injustice’ later. “

Or … maybe it would be better for everyone if said leos were screened before being given badges ands guns, aka: authority to do whatever they please.

“There is a severe lack of respect for authority in this nation”

Gee – I wonder why.

” but if the citizenry behave as if they have the right to question every request made by a LEO”

You mean like ummm … roadside cavity searches? Or demanding that you commit a crime? How about the age old suck my dick. Yes, by all means do not resist because they will beat the crap outta yer ass.

“Let’s be honest”

That would be a good start. The blowing of smoke up ones ass has been demonstrated to to be ineffective, and yet it continues unabated.

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