Friday, April 24, 2015

In a Rut: Cleveland Police Body Cameras

A Taser International AXON Body camera.
Body cameras, I write in the upcoming May issue of Cleveland Magazine, are making their way onto Cleveland streets. However, an internal audit has put the rollout on hold.

The original plan called for the entire Cleveland Division of Police to be equipped by the end of June. Now rollout for the next district in line, the Second, is stalled. “I don’t have a date,” says police spokesperson Sgt. Ali Pillow.

“It’s my understanding that we will still be on pace to have all five district’s basic patrol personnel outfitted before the end of this year,” says Pillow.

Before the rollout gets started again, the department wants to re-evaluate its policies. “The audit is to look at all the video procedures, marking the video, uploading it and the procedures that the officer uses when retrieving the video,” says Pillow. “The entire process.”

“It will be much easier to do that in one [district] than five or two, or whatever,” says Pillow.

Pillow could not elaborate on the scope of the audit, being conducted within the Division of Public Safety.

For its part, the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association is none too happy with the cameras in general, reported WKYC’s Tom Meyer last night. The city denied the station’s (ridiculously vague) public records request that “asked for incidents during the time the body cameras have been in operation to help identify cases that used the cameras.”

More importantly, the audit process means that the General Police Order governing the body camera system could change. Here's the current iteration.

“That document is a fluid document in terms of our policy,” says Pillow. “Like with anything that you just start, there are going to be some things that work or might work or could be improved.”

Currently, the policy calls for periodic reviews of footage by police supervisors and the Mobile Support Unit. No news on whether the post-audit policy will include independent reviews of footage by a civilian body such as the Civilian Police Review Board.

The Fourth District (map below for the unfamiliar) is the only of Cleveland’s five police districts currently making use of the cameras from Taser International. Already officers there have recorded about 30,000 videos, Sgt. Todd Melzer of the Mobile Support Unit told me in an interview two weeks ago.

Outfitting 1,500 officers is bound to be logistically messy. Each station must have a separate dedicated Internet connection, needed to upload vast quantities of video to Taser’s cloud service The Fourth initially did not have such a connection, though it now does, as do the other four districts.

For officers, there is a definite learning curve in the field. Deliberate button pressing must become muscle memory. For supervisors, properly reviewing footage and releasing videos via Cleveland’s already slow public records process presents yet another wrinkle.

“The entire process is being reviewed and there could be some changes to the policy,” says Pillow.

Seven months after City Council shelled out for the cameras, less than a quarter of Cleveland’s officers are equipped. The audit is making an already plodding process slower. But a deliberative, forward-looking rollout — with some more solid deadlines — can only be a good thing.

No comments: