A closer look at Akron’s bodycam policies, which allow officers to wait before recording in some situations

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 10:57 PM EDT
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AKRON, Ohio (WOIO) - Days after a 16-year-old boy was shot in the hand by an Akron police officer, the department said there was no bodycam footage that captured the moment the officer fired his gun.

Some video, showing the moments after the shooting, was released.

“The officer directly involved in the shooting and the witness officer did not immediately activate their body-worn cameras (BWC) in this incident,” said Lt. Mike Miller.

Police said the teenager had a gun; the footage that was released appeared to show a handgun a few feet from the teen as an officer placed him under arrest.

Moments before the shooting, the officers were patrolling the area and heard gunshots. They immediately began investigating.

At a recent community forum, an officer addressed similar situations.

“If you’re seeing shots fired, somebody hops out of the car and you go to press that button, sometimes it doesn’t come on. You don’t know that because you’re focused on the suspect running or the person shooting,” he said.

Miller referred 19 News to the city’s policy on activating bodycams. It says in part:

“Officers and citizen safety should always be given priority over activating BWC media. Officers may encounter a situation requiring immediate action to prevent injury, destruction of evidence or escape. In this situations, officers should activate the BWC if doing so does not place them or others in danger; otherwise, officers shall activate the BWC at the first available opportunity after the immediate threat has been addressed.”

In reviewing multiple recent incidents involving guns in Akron, 19 News found that officers typically turn their cameras on while driving to the scene, allowing any possible interaction to be captured from the moment they arrive until the end of any incident.

19 News asked Lt. Miller if the department has had any discussions about revising its policies to require officers to activate their body-worn cameras in all situations.

He did not respond directly to the question about potential modifications to the policy, but did address the current policy.

“Our procedure does require officers to turn on or activate their BWC, but per the policy, there are unique circumstances where that may not occur based on the totality of the situation,” Miller said. “In any case, where the device was not activated, there would be an internal review to determine if it falls within the guidelines of the procedure.”

By comparison, Cleveland officers are required to record all encounters with the public, except casual conversations. That includes traffic stops, investigative stops, citations and arrests. That also includes interviews with victims and witnesses.

The Cleveland Police Department also requires officer’s turn their cameras on the following situations:

• Any use of force.

• All vehicle and foot pursuits.

• When interacting with someone who the officer believes may have a mental illness or be

experiencing a mental health crisis.

• When a member of the public asks the officer to record their interaction.

• For various other law enforcement matters, like documenting a crime scene.

According to the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team, even if someone does not wish to be recorded, an officer must keep the camera on unless:

(1) The officer is walking into a private home or apartment with the resident’s permission and they

ask that the camera be turned off. (If an officer does not need permission to enter—e.g. because

the officer has a warrant—then the officer is not permitted to turn the camera off, even if the

resident asks.)

(2) When speaking with a victim or witness who refuses to speak with the officer on camera.