The New Missing Court

serpas bwc

Body worn cameras remain the hottest disciplinary item these days.  Everyone should make sure to be familiar with NOPD Policy 447.  Policy 447 indicates when the recordings should be initiated and when they should be concluded.  It also provides guidelines for labeling videos which has been a recent topic of discussion.  I have not included a link to the policy here.

In September, 2014, NOLA.COM published an article entitled “Cameras not on most of the time when NOPD uses force, monitor finds.”  The article indicated that the Consent Decree Monitors found that in the first five months of 2014, 49 out of 145 use of force events had accompanying video.  A possible explanation for why only 34% of use of force incidents were captured on video might be that the cameras were not issued to officers until April, 2014.  As of March, 2015, 425 officers have been issued body worn cameras.  Another factor that could contribute to the 34% figure might be that while there was widespread roll out of cameras in April, 2014, that still did not include supervisory personnel.  The point is that the statistics are misleading – as are the headlines.

The result of the misleading headlines and statistics is that the Judge and Consent Decree monitoring team are particularly interested in the BWC implementation in spite of the fact that the consent decree does not address body worn cameras in any fashion.  That has led to body worn cameras becoming the new missing court.

This may not mean anything to employees of other agencies or members of the public.  It may not even mean anything to new NOPD employees.

In the late 1990’s, the NOPD had a problem with officers appearing in court (or more specifically, not appearing in court).  It is difficult to prosecute cases when witnesses are not present.  As a result, Superintendent Pennington and then Deputy Chief Ronal Serpas decided that the answer was to institute mandatory suspensions for violations of the rule relative to mandatory appearance at tribunals.

Body worn cameras are the new missing court.  In order to combat the reported statistics, the NOPD now has mandatory suspensions for violations of Policy 447.  First offense – mandatory one-day suspension.  Second offense – mandatory five-day suspension.  All of which are avoidable.

Citizens do not file complaints that an officer did not comply with Policy 447.  Complaints can be about plenty of things, but I have never seen one that was about compliance with the body worn camera policy.

When the NOPD receives a complaint, one of the first things the Intake Section checks is the body worn camera video for the incident.  If there is no video, then you can rest assured that will be added to the disciplinary investigation.  If the video is there but was not turned on until the end of the call or if it was turned off early, you are going to get dinged for Rule 4, Paragraph 2, relative to Policy 447.

If your BWC is not functioning correctly, go overboard on notifications.  Policy 447.4(i) requires an officer to immediately notify their immediate supervisor.  I recommend 1) note it on your trip sheet; 2) notify your immediate supervisor in person and by email; 3) email the BWC division with a copy to your supervisor; and 4) note the malfunction in any police report authored during the malfunction.  If your BWC is inoperable for more than one tour, note the malfunction on your trip sheet every day.

Here are a few items noted by the Federal Monitors in their 2014 Fourth Quarter report (pages 54-55).  Hint:  If they noted it in their report, it is probably worth paying attention to it.

  • Officers turn BWC on too late.  We found four cases where important parts of the officer/citizen contact were not captured on the video.
  • Officers do not clearly label (tag) the video in a way that facilitates locating it later for review.  In addition to labeling the BWC video with an Item Number, the officer can draft and enter into the BWC video database information describing the nature of the call.  The Monitoring Team’s review demonstrated that, fairly often, the summaries provided by officers do not provide any real detail as to the nature of the service call.  For example, two of the most common descriptions used were “other call for service” and “traffic stop.”  We found those labels incorrectly tagged to videos for domestic violence calls and service calls resulting in use of force.
  • The Item Numbers associated with the video do not always match the Item Number of the police report.  In at least five of the cases reviewed, the Item Number associated with the video was incorrect.
  • Officers turn the BWC on too soon and leave it running too long.  In several of the cases reviewed, the BWC was activated at the moment the call was received, resulting in a lengthy recording that captured the entire journey from teh location the officer was when he received the call to the scene of the event.  Likewise, the officer left the camera on while he left the scene and was sitting in his car writing up his report  In several cases, there were multiple 30 minute videos associated with ac all for service.  Although this is preferable to the officer turning on the camera too late, the Monitoring Team believes that effective training will result in proper use of the BWC technology.

It is worth noting that this report is not the only reference to labeling videos I have heard about lately.  Officers should take the time to ensure that videos are labeled correctly.

In March, 2015, the NOPD reported that there were 64 camera related disciplinary investigations in 2014.  There have been another 20 camera related disciplinary investigations so far in 2015.  9 cases involved officers previously involved in camera related disciplinary investigations.

In the vast majority of disciplinary investigations where there is BWC footage of the incident, the officer(s) was cleared of allegations because of the BWC footage.  The cameras are beneficial to officers in that way and in the prosecution of cases they investigate.  Be aware and make yourself familiar with NOPD Policy 447.  You can avoid being involved in a disciplinary investigation regarding cameras.  If, however, you manage to get caught in the net, be sure to call me.

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