Aspiring Police Review Board Seeks Changes to Body-Worn Camera Program

Nov 17, 2016

If implemented by the City of Rochester and the Police Department, members of a newly formed, self-appointed advisory board said their group will help modify the body-worn camera program and assist police in becoming more responsive to community needs.

Members of the Community Justice Advisory Board introduced themselves at a news conference Thursday.  The Board is made up almost entirely of members of the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform and led by co-chair Reverend Lewis Stewart.

The group said more than two years ago they worked together to draft new body-worn camera policies, which they hope will be recognized in future as a blueprint for the program. 

(from l to r) Community Justice Advisory Board members KaeLyn Rich, Rev. Lewis Stewart, and Kerry Coleman discuss police body-worn camera policies.

“Since the drafting of those policies we have met on a regular basis with police and city officials to clarify our ongoing concerns,” Stewart said.

RPD began using body-worn cameras in August for what they call better transparency and to create better police-community relations.

The Board expressed concern for a number of the policies, however chose to highlight three of them in its final report.

Member KaeLyn Rich said, in the current manual, there doesn’t appear to be any consequence for police officers who should have but didn’t turn the camera on during a civilian encounter. She said that, after an incident, officers are allowed to review the tape before they write a report, as opposed to relying on their memory of what happened.

Rich also mentioned that unlike some other cities across the country, RPD body-worn camera guidelines fail to present a clear path for people to gain access to video footage they might appear in.

“Of course, people can go through their attorneys, they can use the FOIL law, which we understand the Police Department will comply with, but those are significantly onerous processes,” Rich said.

The Community Justice Advisory Board said they are seeking for their group to become “formalized” and to get official recognition from the City.

“So that we can have ongoing monitoring and evaluating of body camera implementation and utilization,” Stewart said.

The Board said they plan to meet with the Mayor again soon to present their findings.

Rochester Police Department response:

We have received a number of media inquiries regarding our Body Worn Camera (BWC) policy as a result of a press conference held today by the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform.  We appreciate the Coalition’s interest and involvement in our BWC program.  We have met regularly with the Coalition to discuss the BWC program, and have made several changes to our policy in response to their concerns.  We will continue our dialogue regarding the BWC program with the Coalition and other interested groups and individuals. 

Our policy is available for review on the City of Rochester’s website at:   http://www.cityofrochester.gov/RPDBodyWornCamera/.

Following are responses to the specific questions or concerns from the Coalition’s press conference, as we have received them:

Officers don’t have an incentive to turn cameras on.

This is not correct.  Our policy includes mandatory provisions which require officers to activate and record with the BWC in specified situations.  Failure to comply with this mandatory policy is subject to departmental discipline in accordance with the Civil Service Law and our collective bargaining agreement.

Our initial experience is that RPD officers are complying with the BWC policy.  For example, during the period of October 3 – November 3, 2016, with the number of cameras deployed increasing from about 30 to about 155, officers recorded 16,821 individual videos.

Officers have the ability to view incidents on tape before they write a report (as opposed to going off memory of the incident).

 We understand that the Coalition does not agree with our policy on this point.  However, we believe it reflects the best practice to ensure accuracy of reports.  Most departments around the country that utilize BWCs allow officers to view BWC videos to assist in writing accurate reports.  Also, the model policies recommended by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) allow this.

No clear path for access to footage (for citizens to request/get a copy) in a criminal proceeding.

This is not correct.  For any arrest the defendant is entitled to copies of relevant BWC video through the criminal discovery process.  RPD has established a process to provide the District Attorney’s Office with BWC video relevant to their criminal prosecutions, and has conducted a training session for Assistant District Attorneys on this.  In addition, RPD has also conducted a training session for attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office to educate them on the BWC system, and how to obtain BWC video for their cases.  A similar session is currently scheduled for the Monroe County Bar Association in December.