Internal audit shows NOPD body camera usage on the rise

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Jed Lipinski of the Times-Picayune reports that an internal audit by the New Orleans Police Department has found that officers turned their body-worn cameras on during citizen encounters nearly every time they were required to in 2016. The compliance rate, estimated to be 97-99 percent, marks a substantial improvement from the 80 percent compliance the department measured when it first introduced the body-worn camera program in May 2014, NOPD said (

Not included in the internal audit was the rate at which body-worn camera footage has been released to the public. The NOPD issued guidelines in February for when and how they would release video recordings for incidents involving use-of-force by an officer. Since then, some have criticized the department for withholding certain recordings from public view (

To determine how often officers turn on their cameras, the NOPD’s Compliance Bureau examined daily activity reports for every officer who worked on a certain day of the month. If an incident required that video be taken, members of the bureau checked to see if video of the incident existed (

The bureau used the results to grade officers, districts, platoons and the department as a whole. In a statement, Danny Murphy, deputy chief of the compliance bureau, described the process as a “pinpoint assessment of compliance with the body-worn camera policy” (

“Most other police departments that use body worn cameras, as far as I know, don’t do this,” he said, adding that the department’s 97-99 percent compliance rate is “above and beyond what we’ve heard of in other departments” (

NOPD mandates reviews of body-worn camera footage that involves possible use of force, complaints of misconduct, or situations where injuries occur, Murphy said. But supervisors also conduct random checks to gauge how their officers are using the cameras (

The guidelines issued in February required the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau to release footage of critical incidents within 48 hours to the City Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the NOPD’s federal consent decree compliance bureau. Those parties then offer a recommendation to NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison, who is required to make the final call within nine days of the incident (

“I want to work quickly to share them with the public, if we know releasing them won’t impact the safety of everyone involved or the outcomes of the investigations,” Harrison said at a press conference (

But Marjorie Esman, head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, argued that the guidelines gave NOPD too much license to withhold potentially incriminating footage. “At the end of the day, it’s ultimately at the sole discretion of the chief,” Esman said (

On March 31, a month after the guidelines were published, NOPD released body-worn camera footage of officers fatally shooting two people in 2015. The previously unreleased recordings captured the Jan. 7, 2015, fatal shooting of Omarr Jackson in Central City and the April 28 killing of Jared Johnson in New Orleans East (

Harrison said an internal NOPD investigation concluded that both shootings were justified, and prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved (

In June, NOPD released a dashboard camera video of an Aug. 21 gun battle in the 7th Ward between a suspect and two NOPD officers that ended in the suspect’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot. Harrison said he showed the victim’s family members the video before making it public (

But the NOPD sparked controversy last year when it declined to release footage of an incident in which an officer shot and killed a U.S. Army veteran in New Orleans East (

Harrison said footage from a dashboard camera confirmed that Calvin McKinnis, 33, fired the first shot during a traffic stop, and that body cameras captured the sound of a single gunshot (

But family members disputed that account, claiming McKinnis, a father of three young children, did not own a gun. They said police never showed them footage from Carter’s body camera or the dashboard camera in the officer’s squad car (

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