4 New Things In Denver Police’s Latest Body Camera Policy

September 11, 2015
Photo: Police body cameras
Denver Police use wired on-body police video cameras, similar to this one used by Los Angeles Police.

Body cameras will soon be the norm for all the Denver Police, and in anticipation, the department released this week a final draft policy for how officers should use them. 

The new policy is largely similar to guidelines first released during a body camera pilot in 2014. Still, there are a few differences and we've highlighted them below. 

1) Officers now encouraged to tell public cameras are rolling

"Officers are encouraged to notify the public that the [body camera] is activated and recording. Under most circumstances, notification has shown to diffuse incidents. However, there may be times that this is impractical or that the notification could diminish lines of communication. Officer discretion should be utilized and generally favor notification over non-notification."

This text was added to the policy not just because it's considered a best practice for police body cameras -- Denver police officers who were part of the body camera pilot mentioned it too, said Denver Police Commander Magen Dodge.

"We heard that a lot," said Dodge. "We had a lot of officers who said that as soon as they were told they being recorded, people would walk away."

For officers, notifying others about their recording body camera is only encouraged, not mandated, and Dodge said that's on purpose too.

More CPR News reporting on police body cameras:

Mental health providers and some of victims advocacy groups told the the department that there are some circumstances where announcing that a camera is recording might not have the desired effect. 

"So if an officer feels like, 'ooh, if I bring this up and really force the issue of 'Hey, you're being recorded' it may turn this bad, we give that opportunity."

2) Officers should record "when engaging in forced entry"

If officers have to force their way into somewhere, usually there's something bad going on that they should record, said Dodge. 

Photo: Denver police Cmdr. Magen Dodge (AP Photo)
Denver police Cmdr. Magen Dodge takes questions from members of the media during a news conference about the police use of body cameras at the Denver Police Deptartment headquarters Tuesday, March 10, 2015, in Denver. Dodge oversees Denver's body camera program. 

"We recognize that, 'hey, these are probably some of the more hairy situations, let's record them,' " she said. 

There wasn't anything specific that happened during the pilot that prompted this, said Dodge. More and more pilot studies from around the country have become available and DPD's policy "just morphed. As it should," said Dodge. 

3) Further clarification of where cameras should stay off 

DPD's old policy said body cameras shouldn't be turned on when "a reasonable expectation of privacy exists." But when is that? Turns out that's tricky for officers to define too. 

The first policy named locker rooms, restrooms, and medical facilities. New to the list of named private locations is detox centers.

"We took feedback from the officers saying, 'well what about ambulances? What about detox?' and said 'Ok yep, we were lumping that under hospital, because it's still a medical facility. But if it's more clear and you understand what it is we really want you to do, there's no harm in bullet pointing that out."

4) Punishments for officers who don't follow the rules

During the pilot program, Denver Police weren't sure if the department would be adopting body cameras. But now that the cameras are coming, they have to ensure that officers follow the policy. 

Each time that an officer fails to follow the body camera rules, the penalty increases. The first violation gets a written reprimand, the second gets a fined day, and the third generates a formal disciplinary case. 

But the policy is really oriented towards failure to record -- "I didn't attempt to turn the camera on" or "I forgot to turn it on." There are more severe punishments for officers who flout the policy. (There weren't any of those, Dodge said.)

"Let's say I jump into a lake to go save somebody. Well, I didn't record the incident," said Dodge. "So is the officer in violation? Technically, yes. Should they receive disciplinary [action] for that? Probably not, right?" 

There is a learning curve when it comes to using the cameras, and Dodge said officers will have 30 days that include additional training. 

"That doesn't mean within that 30 days, 'Hey, I get a get-out-of-jail free pass," said Dodge. If an officer refuses to use the cameras or won't follow policy, that's still subject to discipline. 

Most officers are just anxious to get their camera back though, said Dodge.

The end is in sight for those officers -- she considers the latest policy final. But if you want to add your comment, you've got two weeks to do so.

So far, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado told the Denver Post that they don't like that officers wouldn't need to wear the cameras off-duty. 

They are joined by the Denver Post editorial board, who echo the concern that officers don't have to use the cameras while they are off-duty: 

The department approves literally hundreds of off-duty contracts for officers, who often provide security in establishments serving alcohol. They wear the uniform and are empowered to enforce the law. And city taxpayers are potentially on the hook for any action that triggers a successful lawsuit.

In their March review of the policy, the Office of the Independent Monitor recommended that officers be required to use the cameras while off-duty. 

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