Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Denver Police With Body Cameras Failed To Record Most Use-Of-Force Incidents, Report Finds

During a six-month pilot program, Denver police officers with the body cameras failed to record about 75% of the use-of-force incidents they were involved in, monitors found.

Denver Police Chief Robert White responds to questions during a news conference.

David Zalubowski / AP

The incidents were not recorded by the officers either because the encounters escalated too quickly to activate them, equipment malfunctions or there weren't enough cameras to go around, according to the report from the city's Office of the Independent Monitor.

There were 80 documented cases of use-of-force during the test run that included officers punching, "tasing" or using batons on a suspect. Of those, just 21 — or 26% — were recorded.

The Denver Police Department did not immediately return calls for comment.

The report said the devices — which were not distributed to the entire force — helped exonerate officers accused of misconduct, but also recorded instances of wrongdoing.

The report comes amid a national debate over excessive police force and holding law enforcement accountable, particularly after grand juries declined to file charges against the officers who killed unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island.

The Denver Police Department also made headlines when officers fatally shot a 17-year-old girl in January. The officers were investigating a report of a suspicious car that officers determined was reported stolen.

Authorities initially said Jessica "Jessie" Hernandez drove the vehicle at officers, injuring one of them before they opened fire, but a department spokesman later said they don't know at what point the officer suffered a fracture to his leg.

The Denver Post also reported that the department fired a police officer caught on video wrestling a woman into submission inside a holding cell. Officer James Medina was fired on March 4 for using excessive force and failing to report the incident to his superiors.

Nicholas E. Mitchell, Denver's independent monitor, offered nine recommendations to the police department in the report, including providing cameras to all officers regardless of whether they're on- or off-duty.

The devices weren't assigned to supervisors or off-duty officers, leaving 35 of the 80 use of force incidents unrecorded.

The other 45 incidents involved on-duty patrol officers who were assigned the cameras. However, just 47% were captured on film, and in the remainder of the cases, the devices weren't activated or used in a way that produced usable footage.

Officers said the situations escalated too quickly for them to activate their cameras. However, the report found that in a number of those cases, officers did have time to activate their devices.

In his report on Tuesday, Mitchell said officers should be trained on the importance of activating the body cameras before initiating contact with people, and keeping them on until the end of the encounter.

He also said the Denver Police Department should amend its policies to require officers to inform people they are being recorded.

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