Here’s why Dayton plans audits of police body-camera video

Dayton plans to acquire body-worn cameras for police officers early this year, and police officials say video footage will be audited to try to ensure officers are complying with department policies and code of conduct rules.

A Dayton police reform committee recently recommended police and community members develop a new program to document and correct low-level policy violations, which may be caught on camera and discovered during supervisors’ video audits.

A program that allows officers to self-report minor policy violations with reduced disciplinary consequences could help improve police work and job performance, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, co-lead of the recruitment police reform group.

“Those could be teachable moments for us to have better culture moving forward,” she said.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Last year, the police reform committee focused on use of force recommended the Dayton Police Department invest in body-worn cameras for officers.

The Dayton City Commission accepted the recommendation and directed the city manager to identify funding and secure a vendor for implementing cameras this year. Dayton currently is the largest city in the state not to equip officers with the video technology.

The Dayton commission expects to soon vote purchasing new video-recording equipment ― possibly later this month.

The city’s 2021 budget calls for using about $400,000 from the photo-enforcement traffic safety fund to pay for body cameras.

About 19 Dayton officers tested body-worn cameras between late July and early November, and officers equipped with cameras during the trial period were required to follow certain rules on when to record video, police officials said.

A temporary executive order modeled in part after the police department’s in-cruiser camera policy required officers to record video during traffic stops, pursuits, emergency runs, arrests in view of the camera, field interviews, prisoner transports and other circumstances, said Dayton police Major Paul Saunders, who is chief of staff for the police department.

Officers also were required to activate their cameras during citizen-generated calls for service and record video every shift, Saunders said.

The police department is developing policies around body-worn cameras, and the law department is helping with the review, police officials said.

Officials say it’s unclear right now how many police officers will be equipped with cameras, but at a minimum all patrol officers will wear them.

Police supervisors conduct regular audits that involve reviewing in-cruiser video footage to look for violations of policies or code of conduct rules, which are more serious offenses, Saunders said.

Video footage from body-worn cameras is expected to undergo the same kind of audits, which are done both routinely and randomly, he said.

Police sergeants are required to audit cruiser-cam video footage of at least 10 officers every month, which does not include video reviews related to administrative investigations following events like police pursuits, use-of-force incidents and citizen complaints, Saunders said.

“All officers have to be reviewed at least twice in a quarter to ensure compliance ... with policy,” he said.

Saunders said policy violations discovered during audits often do not lead to discipline.

Instead, he said, officers often receive instruction, guidance and training about how they could have better handled situations.

Members of the recruitment police reform group recently recommended developing a voluntary and possibly self-reporting program for low-level policy violations that could be similar to the airline industry’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP).

The ASAP program allows pilots and other employees to voluntarily report minor violations without normal disciplinary consequences to help educate workers, fix mistakes and improve safety.

The reform group has asked members of the police department, the police union, the reform group and other city staff to explore designing a program like this, officials say.

“Correcting small issues hopefully makes big issues less likely to occur, and tracking them helps show if there is a need for additional training, changes in policy, or some other kind of corrective action on a broader scale,” said Torey Hollingsworth, senior policy aide in the mayor’s office.

Discipline is meant to change behavior, but the proposed new program hopefully would get the same kinds of results while also improving law enforcement culture, said Mayor Whaley.

Ellis Jacobs, an attorney and a member of the recruitment working group, said he thinks the self-reporting program is an interesting idea the deserves further study and exploration.

He said he wants to know if it could improve officer performance without reducing accountability.

Many people are glad the city is moving forward with acquiring body cameras, but they are little more than expensive devices unless appropriate use policies are put in place, he said.

“With the right policies in place, they can be powerful tools for accountability,” he said.

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