Colorado Springs Police adopts new body camera policy

February 4—The Colorado Springs Police Department plans to release body camera footage of any “significant event” such as a shooting or death in custody, within 21 days of the incident.

“It’s about being transparent with our community and was largely initiated by the Transparency Matters report that was done last year,” said Lt. Pamela Castro, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs Police.

The department’s new policy that standardizes the approach to releasing information about “critical incidents” is a specific recommendation in the 200-page Transparency Matters report on the department’s use of force, released in April.

This new policy, discussed in a January briefing, goes one step beyond what Colorado House Bill 21-1250 now requires of all state and municipal law enforcement agencies in the state: Provide body camera footage within 21 days of the request. . Even with an active ongoing investigation, law enforcement still has to release the video within 45 days.

Colorado Springs Police say it will automatically release video footage of significant events, with no outside request required.

Current chairman of the city’s Law Enforcement Transparency and Advisory Committee, D’Ontay Roy, said he believes the policy change is a step in the right direction.

“I don’t know if it will ease much of the tension, but it’s a step forward,” he said.

Castro added that the new policy officially went into effect Wednesday. He added that the policy was developed following the Transparency Matters report, under the direction of police chief Adrian Vasquez who took office last year, as opposed to a reaction to a particular incident.

Department officials have warned there could be multiple reasons why videos of some incidents are not made public within 21 days. In situations where an investigation is underway, such as police use of force during an arrest, there may be a delay in releasing the video. Officials said specific legal proceedings, such as a grand jury paneling or a court order from a judge, would also stop the release of any video.

Castro said when there is a delay the department intends to provide an explanation as to why video of a given incident is not being released.

Approaches from other departments

“We absolutely support transparency in law enforcement,” El Paso Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Deborah Mynatt said of the policy. “We’re pretty much lined up.”

The Sheriff’s Office regularly investigates situations where Colorado Springs police officers use force and vice versa.

While Mynatt said the sheriff’s office was still internally debating whether to copy the Colorado Springs policy entirely, he said the department was definitely working on internal procedures to ensure it complied with state statutes.

Taylor Pendergrass, director of defense and strategic alliances at the ACLU Colorado, said her office hadn’t heard of any other Colorado department being so proactive and transparent with its policy on bodycam footage, which she applauded.

The Parker Police Department earned praise from the ACLU for its then-national-leading bodycam policies. While that policy doesn’t specifically state a time frame for the release of video footage, a department spokesperson confirmed it will comply with new state statutes.

The Denver Police Department includes a link to state law on its Request for Documents page, although it too doesn’t appear to have any sort of policy of automatically releasing bodycam footage.

Castro said the department’s new policy was modeled on that of other agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department.

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In 2018, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance requiring the LAPD to release relevant video of officer-involved shootings within 45 days of the shooting. The new policy also requires video to be released whenever an officer uses force which results in a suspect going to the hospital.

That policy came into play last month when Keenan Anderson, the cousin of a Black Lives Matter co-founder, was involved in a car accident. He was acting erratically after the incident and officers attempted to detain him, according to reports.

In the ensuing fight, he was shot several times with a stun gun. He died a few hours later of a heart attack. Nine days after the arrest, the department released video of the incident. In the video, a department spokesperson gives a brief introduction, followed by segments of bodycam footage from several officers. Captions and contextual text have been added to the video.

The Colorado Springs Police intend to add similar elements to its video releases.

“Our goal is to let digital evidence like the 911 call, body-worn camera, and radio traffic speak for itself,” Castro said. “LAPD does more storytelling than we intend to, but the loose structure is similar.”

Transparency issues

“It’s to be expected and great to see departments complying with these laws,” Pendergrass said.

“It’s crucial to see the law go into effect,” he added, saying that as incidents occur both the public and law enforcement agencies will adjust so as not to have the usual squabbles over whether and when to post videos of the use of force. by the police.

“Those fights will be a thing of the past, and I think it will be a good thing for law enforcement as well as the public,” he said.

The policy change, announced ahead of the release of graphic bodycam footage of Tire Nichols’ fatal beating in Memphis, Tennessee, comes at a pivotal time for Colorado Springs police. In last spring’s Transparency Matters report, a survey of the general public and police department employees found that both groups would like to see more transparency and fewer delays in the release of bodycam footage.

The police department has had its own incidents of use of force and bodycam footage in recent years, including costing the city multiple cash settlements to protesters protesting police brutality in 2020 after they cited sued the city charging unnecessary force in their arrests.

A year earlier came the killing of De’Von Bailey, a 19-year-old who was shot in the back by Colorado Springs officers. CSPD initially refused public requests to release the bodycam footage, but later reversed that decision and released the video within two weeks of the incident.

That footage showed Bailey fleeing police when he was shot and killed, but it also confirmed he possessed a handgun, which officers said they feared he was reaching for when they opened fire. A grand jury would later decide not to press charges against the two officers in the case, even though the city would settle a nearly $3 million wrongful death lawsuit with Bailey’s family.

Roy points to the Bailey case as an example of how, even when video evidence is quickly provided, there can still be significant difference of opinion on the outcome.

“It’s a tool that can help the public and the police in policing,” Roy said, “but it’s not always a solution.”

The chairman of the Law Enforcement Transparency and Advisory Committee also said that cases such as the recent one by Dalvin Gadson Ochoa, in which an Oct. 9 traffic stop led to a violent arrest, highlighted the possible benefits of releasing quick of movies. Gadson Ochoa’s attorney received and released bodycam video of the arrest about eight weeks after the fact. Most of the charges against Gadson Ochoa were later dropped.

Roy said he would like to see an automatically released video whenever police use force, not just after a “significant event,” though he says it’s likely an unrealistic use of resources.

“Still,” Roy asks, “would we have ever seen Gadson’s video if he hadn’t decided to sue?”


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