Bodycams remain off throughout officer-involved shooting of Australian woman, but why?

The police officers involved in the shooting death of Australian woman Justine Damond in southwest Minneapolis did not have their body-worn cameras turned on, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The BCA said the squad camera did not capture the incident, and investigators are attempting to determine whether any video of the incident exists.

According to the BCA, two Minneapolis police officers responded to a call of a possible assault around 11:30 p.m. Saturday evening in the Fulton neighborhood. At one point an officer fired their weapon, killing the woman community members later identified as the original 911 caller.

Sunday evening activists and neighborhood residents gathered near the scene of the shooting for a vigil--identifying the victim as Justine Damond, an Australian national and instructor with the Lake Harriet Spiritual Community.

The lack of bodycam video or squad car video was a source of frustration and confusion at the community gathering Sunday night. The Minneapolis Police Department released its final body camera policy in June 2016.

The policy requires a bodycam activation for any searches, any contact involving physical or verbal confrontations, and prior to any use of force. If a bodycam is not activated prior to a use of force, "it shall be activated as soon as it is safe to do so."

Situations that require a bodycam activation

When safe to do so, Minneapolis officers should activate their bodycams during the following situations. Activation shall occur as soon as possible, but before any citizen contact.

Traffic stops.

Suspicious Person stops.

Suspicious Vehicle stops.

Any vehicular response requiring emergency driving as defined by MPD P/P 7402, or emergency response as defined by MPD P/P 7403.

Vehicle pursuits.

Work-related transports not involving a ride-along or another City employee in their official capacity as a City employee.

Any search, including but not limited to searches of vehicles, persons, and buildings.

Any contact involving criminal activity.

Any contact involving physical or verbal confrontations.

Any contact that is, or becomes adversarial.

When advising a person of their Miranda rights.

When ordered to by a supervisor.

Prior to any use of force. (If a bodycam is not activated prior to a use of force, it shall be activated as soon as it is safe to do so.)

Any tactical entry or forced entry into a building, unless a supervisor has determined in advance that the video or audio data could result in the disclosure of operational or tactical information that would compromise the effectiveness of future actions or jeopardize officer safety.

If a situation changes to require activation, the officer shall immediately activate the BWC as soon as it is safe to do so.

Approved deactivation scenarios

While protecting accident scenes.

Monitoring assigned traffic posts.

Assisting motorists.

To protect the identity of an officer in an undercover capacity.

To protect the identity of a confidential reliable informant.

The incident or event is of such duration that it is necessary to deactivate the camera to conserve power or storage. If it is necessary to discuss issues surrounding the incident/investigation with a supervisor or another officer in private, officers may turn off their BWC. This includes discussions between Field Training Officers with officers in training that are specific to training issues.

If a request is made for a bodycam to be turned off by a party being contacted, the officer should take into account the overall circumstances and what is most beneficial to all involved, before deciding to honor the request. For example, an officer may choose to turn off the BWC if its operation is inhibiting a victim or witness from giving a statement. Factors to consider may include the type of call and the vulnerability of the victim, such as the victim of a sexual assault.

When ordered to by a supervisor. Both the officer and supervisor shall document the reason for the deactivation as described in the Report Writing section of this policy.

View a complete copy of the 11-page policy (PDF)