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LMPD Makes Policy Change To Monitor Body Camera Use

police-headquarters
Louisville Metro Police headquarters

More than a year after equipping officers with body-worn cameras, the Louisville Metro Police Department announced it will start tracking how the cameras are used.

Top police officials made the policy change on the heels of WFPL News reports that showed little oversight of the near $3 million camera program. The reports led to criticismsand questions from experts, activists and the mayor about department transparency.

Though department policy calls for regular, random audits of camera footage to ensure officers are following protocol, department officials have failed to keep a record of such audits since the program's roll-out in June 2015.

Without such records it's unclear if the reviews were happening at all and gave little evidence to show whether officers are, by and large, turning their cameras on and off in accordance with police policy.

Body cameras are viewed as a critical tool for documenting incidents and providing visual and audio evidence in certain events. Police departments across the country are beginning to equip officers with cameras as relationships between people and police suffer in the wake of multiple fatal police shootings and use-of-force incidents against people of color.

A fatal police shooting in Louisville last monthwas captured by the body cameras worn by officers at the scene. One of those officers, however, did not appear to activate his camera at the time of the shooting.

LMPD policy requires officers to use body cameras to "record all calls for service and law enforcement activities" and to activate body cameras "prior to their arrival on-scene, for any call for service."

New Policy Draws Praise

The policy shift drew praise from Metro Councilman David James, a former Louisville police officer and police union president.

James chairs the council’s public safety committee and criticized the department last month for failing to keep track of body-camera use, saying the absence of a documented record of reviews undermines public trust in the police department.

In an interview Thursday, he said keeping a log of audits "is a vital part of the body camera system."

"I think it's important for the transparency and the trust with the community to know that a supervisor is looking over the shoulder of their employee to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing," he said.

Police department policy states body cameras should be used to record all calls for service and law enforcement activities, including arrests, citations, interviews and use-of-force incidents. If an officer fails to record such an event, he or she is required to explain why in a memo to supervisors, according to the policy.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who in August said any review of body camera use should be “in an auditable format so there’s trust in that process," expressed support for the policy revisions, according to a spokesman.

Following the initial WFPL report about the lack of body-camera oversight, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky met with Police Chief Steve Conrad to review the department's policy and request the audits be documented for proof that officers are following protocol.

Amber Duke, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Kentucky, said the change in policy is welcome, necessary and in line with the police department's goal of being transparent.

"Ultimately, the point of body-worn cameras is about transparency," she said.

'It Just Makes Sense'

Conrad said department officials depend on body-camera reviews to ensure officers are following proper procedure.

Asked last month about the lack of record of reviews, he said "I don't think it ever occurred to us that that was something we would need to be documenting."

Since then, police officials revised the department's Standard Operating Procedure to require supervisors document all body-camera reviews in a "review log."

"It just makes sense," said Major Eric Johnson, head of the department's administrative unit.

In addition to random audits, supervisors are to conduct reviews of body camera footage during performance evaluations, during investigations of officers with patterns of alleged misconduct and during the evaluation of probationary officers, according to department policy.

Johnson said keeping a record of all body-worn camera reviews is "in the interest of being transparent, of being efficient."

Under the revised policy, commanding officers will also receive quarterly reports of officers who fail to comply with departmental procedure related to body camera use.

The policy change drew ire from Sgt. David Mutchler, head of the local police union.

"I don't see the necessity of it," Mutchler said.

He said requiring supervisors to conduct the audits, then document the audits, is too burdensome of a task. He said supervisors are already overwhelmed with administrative duties and the workload limits their ability to "get out on the street with their guys."

Johnson, however, dismissed that.

He said the process of documenting the audits will take "no more than a couple of minutes."

"I have no doubt they will find a way to adapt and include this in their normal duties," he said.

The updated policy takes effect this week, he said. Supervisors who fail to document reviews in line with department policy could be subject to disciplinary action, he said.

Along with a shift in policy to require the documentation of body camera reviews, the police department also tweaked the policy to mandate officers not wear body cameras on the same side as their radio microphone and to ensure body cameras are "not pointed excessively high or low."

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.