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Audit finds compliance problems in Durham’s police body-camera program

·4 min read

A recent city audit found Durham police officers uploaded body-camera footage late and in some cases mislabeled it, potentially jeopardizing evidence.

The body-camera program began capturing officers’ interactions with the public in 2017. By 2020, the Durham Police Department had 293,502 videos and over 50,000 hours of footage, the audit found.

The program had not been audited before, which is why city staff members proposed it for one of the eight to 10 audits that will be done this fiscal year, said Germaine Brewington, director of Audit Services.

Audit findings

A survey asked officers how often they upload the videos in their camera. Some 236 officers, or about half the department’s sworn officers, responded.

Forty-six percent of the respondents said they upload videos daily, 18% every few days, 17% weekly, 16% once a month, and 3% never.

According to department rules, “all cameras with recordings, including those captured on-duty and during secondary employment, must be docked for transfer no later than the end of the officer’s next [business] day.”

Officers can upload video footage manually or by re-docking their body-worn camera. If the camera is inserted into a docking station, footage will be uploaded automatically while the camera is charging, to a cloud-based storage and management system.

The audit found the department has the necessary policies, training and equipment to support the use of body-worn cameras, but it could not confirm that supervisors are doing random, monthly reviews to ensure compliance.

“Supervisors should be reviewing, on a random basis, video footage of their directed reports, and we didn’t find any clear guidance on exactly how many videos for their directed reports that they should be monitoring,” Brewington said.

“We recommended that they be more specific about the number of videos that they review monthly, so that they can make sure that the cameras are working and so they can tell if they are activating [the cameras] when they should,” she added.

The audit also asked how often officers categorize their videos. Eight percent said daily, 9% every few days, 4% weekly, 13% once a month, and 65% never.

At the end of each shift, officers are supposed to watch their video footage, file it with an incident number and ensure that there is a proper classification for the video. If they do not assign an accurate tag, a computer-generated tag will be assigned to the video for them.

“This may be accurate or could not be accurate at all,” Brewington said. “So it’s really important for them to do this because, if not, the evidence could be key to closing a case.”

Body-camera footage has been useful not just for evidence, but also when constituents want to hold officers accountable, such as when police looking for an armed man pointed a gun and handcuffed a 15-year-old teenager playing tag at the Rochelle Manor apartment complex in August 2020.

Then Police Chief C.J. Davis said soon after the incident she felt remorse for what happened, The News & Observer previously reported.

Police response to the audit

The audit noted that interim Police Chief Shari Montgomery agreed with the recommendations and plans to implement policy updates by Oct. 1.

“The Police Department leadership owned the deficiencies identified and responded in a comprehensive way to get the issues corrected within 60 days or so,” Brewington said.

Supervisors will establish a minimum number of videos per month for their direct reports. This review and any actions taken as a result of findings within the videos will be documented in a monthly form.

The department also plans to increase training in policy and compliance to avoid mislabeling potential evidence.

“The recommendations are to improve video maintenance and records retention to prevent the evidence from being lost,” Brewington said.

The Durham Report

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