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After Stephon Clark Shooting, Sacramento Police Can No Longer Turn Off Body Cameras

Ben Bradford / Capital Public Radio

Members of the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission listen to a presentation on April 9, 2018.

Ben Bradford / Capital Public Radio

Sacramento police officers can no longer turn off their body cameras video or sound, according to an emergency memo recently sent to the force.

Deputy Chief Ken Bernard told the Community Police Review Commission on Monday that officers no longer have that discretion. “We put out kind of an emergency directive to correct that behavior, while we look at best practices, and we’ll redefine that policy,” Bernard said.

He said police previously had no directives governing when recordings could be turned off. He called that an oversight.

The interim policy now says officers can’t turn off their microphones unless a superior officer tells them to, according to Bernard.

Attendees at Monday night’s meeting, which drew a small crowd of approximately 30, brought up the body-camera policy. Russell Johnigan, a contract negotiator for labor unions, said he wanted to learn more about when police can adjust their body camera recordings. Officers turned off their microphones shortly after shooting Stephon Clark on March 18.

“That kind of defeats the purpose, if they can turn that on and off at will,” Johnigan said.

After Clark’s death, police leadership and the city commission are both rushing to put out new use-of-force policies, which were already in the works.

The department already has a group studying when police should be directed to use force, as does the city of Sacramento. The police commission, which was formed in its current iteration after the 2016 shooting of Joseph Mann, is also working on recommendations for city leaders.

“After the shooting, I think everything’s being sped up right now,” says Basim Elkarra, the executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations who heads the police commission and sits on the city and department use-of-force boards.

Elkarra says the review commission hoped to have recommendations for council members by fall, but now could fast track them within a couple of months.

The commission met Monday night to hear criticisms about the current use-of-force policy from the American Civil Liberties Union, in the civilian board’s first meeting since the widespread protests that followed the Clark shooting.

Adrienna Wong, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said that, while Sacramento tells officers to attempt to de-escalate a situation before resorting to force, it does not say how.

“The tactics and decisions leading up to use-of-force are not mentioned in Sacramento’s use of force policy at all,” Wong said.

She recommended the policy spell out de-escalation tactics officers should consider before reaching for their guns. The ACLU has also sponsored state legislation that would similarly change California law.

Law enforcement groups have been skeptical of the changes, arguing that to spell out stringent rules for live, ever-changing engagements can endanger officers.

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