Stephon Clark Shooting Spurs New Body Camera Policy

by | April 11, 2018

By Ryan Lillis and Nashelly Chavez

The Sacramento Police Department has ordered officers to keep their body cameras and microphones on after community members criticized the muting of footage minutes after the Stephon Clark shooting, according to a department email obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

The department sent the memo to rank-and-file officers on Wednesday saying officers "shall not deactivate or mute their BWCs (body worn cameras) until the investigative or enforcement activity involving a member of the public has concluded." The memo states that cameras may be turned off when officers are discussing issues with a doctor or nurse, when victims refuse to give a statement while being recorded or when the incident involves "sensitive circumstances" such as sexual assault.

Officers must say on camera why they are turning off the cameras before doing so, according to the memo. Police supervisors can also give approval for cameras to be turned off or muted.

"We will continue to work through the development, review and vetting of an updated BWC policy and hope to have that completed soon," the memo reads. "However, the current policy requires some immediate clarification and additions that cannot wait until the review process is complete."

Based on police footage, officers muted their body cams about six minutes after shooting Clark on March 18 as they began to discuss with other cops what transpired. That contributed to distrust among African Americans and activists after the incident.

"They all just muted their mics. ... It was a moment of, what are they doing? What are they saying?" said Les Simmons, a pastor and social activist in Sacramento, after viewing the footage with two of Clark's family members last month.

Deputy Chief Ken Bernard told the city police review commission on Monday that the department's leadership ranks are exploring their policies on body cameras and microphones. Police commission member Mario Guerrero said he is "hoping we really take a look at that policy."

Bernard said the department's previous policy had allowed officers to turn their microphones off.

Councilman Allen Warren said last week he wants the City Council to consider an ordinance that would bring disciplinary action against officers who turn off microphones on their body cameras.

Bernard's comments came during a commission hearing on the police department's use of force and pursuit policies. Commission members expressed support for re-examining those policies. "I hope it happens really swiftly here because I think it needs to happen," said commission member Kiran Savage-Sangwan.

The meeting was a precursor to Tuesday's City Council session in which Police Chief Daniel Hahn will begin answering a series of questions from Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council about the police department's policies on use of force and pursuing suspects.

"It's an opportunity for the council and the community to ask all the questions that need to be asked and for us, with the chief, to define a reasonable time frame going forward (to make changes to department policies)," the mayor said Monday. "This is an opportunity for real change and we want to do it right."

The mayor said the police commission would "play a very, very important role in the weeks and months ahead" as the city and the police department explore policy changes.

"We want them to be out in the community, to be listening and to be receiving a lot of input," the mayor said. "We want them to be the first level of review with suggested changes to protocol and policies, the first place the changes should be reviewed."

(c)2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)