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IMPD looks to improve turnaround time for releasing body camera 'critical incident' videos

Agency launched program in August 2020
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 10:50:21-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The murder of George Floyd prompted many people across the country to call for more accountability and transparency from their local police departments, including the use of body-worn cameras.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department launched its body camera program several months after Floyd’s death, in August 2020, and is still a work in progress.

So far, IMPD has captured more than 400,000 recordings.

Some are heartwarming moments, like an IMPD officer helping a woman push her disabled car off the road or giving a three-year-old boy a police sticker.

Other moments captured on body cameras are graphic and hard to watch, like a January 2021 incident on West Washington Street when a suspect ran from police and fired a shot in the air.

Police shot the suspect, who survived and was later criminally charged.

IMPD released this body camera footage as part of a “critical incident” video.

A critical incident is considered a shooting involving an officer or an in-custody death.

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Since the body camera program launched in August 2020, IMPD has released at least six critical incident videos to the public, including an incident in which police shot and killed a suspect.

Here are the six critical incidents that have been released:

WRTV Investigates found while IMPD has released some footage weeks after the incidents, others have taken two, even three months to release to the public.

For example, the West Washington shooting happened on Jan. 30, 2021, and the critical incident was released on April 12.

The Forest Manor Avenue incident happened on Feb. 23 and IMPD released the video on May 27.

Kendale Adams, Deputy Chief of Performance and Policy, said they are working to improve turnaround time.

"Before you put on display somebody's worst day, some of these ending in death, you want to make sure you have to speak with the family, we have to think about prosecution,” Adams said. “There’s just a lot of things at play. We want to be sensitive to what is about to play out for the community."

A critical incident video isn’t the only way to see what IMPD is up to.

Attorneys, insurance companies, the media, and the public can also request access to a recording.

"We've had over 100 requests for body camera footage, and we have not denied one,” Adams said. “We've filled all those requests."

Professor Seth Stoughton testified at Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd.

Stouhgton is a former law enforcement officer and is an expert on use of force and body cameras

"When you're talking about a deadly use of force, you don't even had a he-said, he-said, you have a he-said, and he's dead,” Stoughton said. “So, having more information even if it's imperfect can be really valuable. "

Stoughton said body camera footage is not as valuable if it sits on the digital shelf gathering dust, which is why it’s so important for police departments to internally review footage.

“Someone has to be reviewing the video, finding those lessons, developing the training officers will be presented with, and that has to be actually allowed,” Stoughton said. “Some agencies don't allow training to include video from that agency."

Indianapolis civil rights attorney Terrance Kinnard agrees.

"If folks aren't reviewing that tape, using those as training opportunities, if they're not fully engaged on the buy-in, then what is it for?" said Kinnard.

Kinnard represents Rachel Harding and Ivore Westfield, who filed a lawsuit alleging they were victims of IMPD excessive force in May 2020.

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While a bystander did get video, the incident involving Harding and Westfield happened before IMPD had body cameras.

“Body cameras are the keep them honest device,” Kinnard said. “Would things have been different if there was body camera footage? If my theory is correct, this answer is yes. This incident may not have occurred if there was body camera footage."

WRTV Investigates asked IMPD how the agency reviews its body camera footage, and Adams said they are analyzed and used for training.

"Yes, we are using our own videos to become better,” Adams said. “We send some to our training academy."

IMPD supervisors and internal affairs also analyze body camera footage, especially when use of force is involved.

IMPD is also adding three auditors who will pull videos to make sure officers are following policy.

“Are we doing what our policy says we should be doing, so for example, our policy says that when we interact from somebody from the community that they should be told you are being audio and video recorded, the camera is on,” Adams said.

IMPD says body cameras are not a perfect technology.

For example, an officer may inadvertently cover their camera with a seatbelt or rifle strap.

“It is not the panacea. It is not the end all be all, but it is one step towards transparency and we’ve seen that,” Adams said.

A new Indiana law that takes effect July 1 makes it a crime for a police officer to turn off a body-worn camera to conceal a crime.

IMPD says most of the time, cameras automatically turn on anytime the officer:

  • is within 500 feet of a dispatched run
  • draws the gun from its holster
  • begins to run
  • violently shakes, such as during a fight
  • activates lights and/or sirens in the car
  • unlocks the shotgun rack
  • lies flat for 10 seconds – this feature, known as Officer Down, notifies all cars on the district that an officer is in need of immediate assistance

IMPD’s full Standard Operating Procedure for body-worn cameras can be found here.

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