The Fresno Police Department received low marks Tuesday for its usage of body cameras in a scorecard rating 50 of the nation’s police departments, but Police Chief Jerry Dyer labeled the report as “flawed” and challenged most of its conclusions.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which describes itself as a coalition of more than 200 national organizations promoting Americans’ civil rights, faulted the department in eight of eight categories on its scorecard, including failure to make its camera policy available, allowing officers to review camera footage before writing incident reports and failing to allow those filing complaints access to camera footage.
Dyer criticized the authors for failing to consult with law enforcement when crafting the scorecard, something Harlan Yu of the leadership conference conceded in a teleconference when he said police “did not have a huge say” in how the report was crafted.
The department’s body cameras and their usage became a point of contention in Fresno in June after the shooting death of Dylan Noble, 19, after friends and family of the teenager demanded that police expedite the release of the shooting footage, something that Dyer acceded to in July.
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No department included in the report satisfied all of the criteria of the leadership conference, but Fresno received the lowest marks in all eight categories, which included whether a department:
▪ Makes its policy publicly and readily available.
▪ Limits officer discretion on when to record.
▪ Addresses personal privacy concerns – for example, while interviewing a sex crime victim.
▪ Prohibits officer pre-report viewing.
▪ Limits retention of footage.
▪ Protects footage against tampering and misuse.
▪ Makes footage available to individuals filing complaints.
▪ Limits the use of biometric technologies.
The report included scores for large departments like Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and New York. The only other department to score poorly in all categories like Fresno was Ferguson, Missouri. That was where a young black man named Michael Brown was shot two years ago by police. His death has been a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement and at numerous protests against police nationwide.
Dyer pointed out that the department’s policy is posted online, and he also took issue with the remainder of the scorecard.
The chief noted that the report did not distinguish between “policy,” which he said was spelled out on the department’s website, and procedures, which “generally are not.” He said procedures include specific instructions to officers on how to perform many duties, which could become a safety concern if the knowledge was generally available to suspects.
He said department procedures in fact prevent the use of cameras when interviewing victims of sex crimes and their parents, unless the parent is a suspect.
There also are rigorous rules for the amount of time body camera footage can be retained by the department, which depend on the type of incidents caught on video and the legal time frame for which the video might serve as evidence. For example, the department retains traffic stop data for a year, but footage relating to a felony investigation is kept for seven years.
As for making footage available to people filing complaints, the chief said what is on video is subject to rules of evidence. Dyer noted that he released video of the Noble shooting under an exception that allows release when “the public interest” outweighs normal procedures.
Perhaps the most high-profile concern of the leadership conference involves allowing officers to view body camera footage of an incident in which they are involved prior to writing a report or submitting to an interview. The great majority of departments named in the scorecard permit such an officer review, as does Fresno.
Dyer defended the policy, saying officers involved in critical incidents often leave out certain elements or don’t remember the sequence of elements in the event. Allowing them to view the video, usually about 10 minutes before they are interviewed, allows them to refresh their memory.
“We believe that’s the right way to do it because we’re trying to get to the truth of the matter,” Dyer said.