The Columbus Police Department has instituted a policy change to prevent some officer body camera video footage from being deleted too early.
CPD Interim Chief Fred Shelton announced Tuesday during a meeting of the department’s special operations group committee that some “no event” videos were being deleted after a few days. Moving forward, no matter the circumstances of the recording, the footage will be kept for 12 months minimum.
Footage from the body cameras is uploaded to a Taser-hosted cloud server at the end of officers’ shifts. The system keeps the videos for varying lengths of time, depending on about 30 categories of instances, ranging from traffic stops to murders. Some videos, such as those involving violent crimes, are set to remain in storage anywhere from five years to forever. However, smaller instances remain for shorter periods of time.
Shelton said “no event” videos, in which no interaction between officers and citizens occurs, were being deleted within days.
“We found out that the body camera system deletes some files,” Shelton said. “It was about 200-300 per month. However, these were what we call ‘no event’ or ‘no charge,’ but we fixed that. I got with our IT guy, so everything now until we get to where we need to be is going to be stored for a year. That’s the minimum.”
Shelton later said the extended storage length for videos is a precaution to ensure that videos are still available if something arises.
“If something comes up within a year, we still have video footage,” Shelton said. “In today’s society, you never know what’s going to happen.”
CPD Training Director Elizabeth Patrick also attended Tuesday’s meeting to walk committee members through an overview of the body cameras’ functions and operation. She said officers receive certification for use of the body cameras after being trained. That certification is renewed annually.
“It’s the same type of training just like with our Tasers device, firearms — anything they get their recertification in,” Patrick said.
Shelton also noted that CPD now has cables in its cars so officers can charge body cameras if the batteries run low.
The changes are a continued effort by CPD to move toward increased transparency and to implement stricter regulations for body camera usage after the SOG review committee presented recommendations for strengthened penalties for officers who fail to comply with the department’s body camera policy. The Columbus City Council approved those recommendations, which were presented with Shelton’s blessing.
More changes discussed
Discussion on further potential adjustments for CPD arose during Tuesday’s meeting, including an extended talk about whether CPD should mandate officers pair their body cameras with their city-issued cell phones.
The cameras can be linked to a smart phone phone via a Bluetooth connection, which allows officers to control the camera using their phones. This also allows the department to keep track of officers’ locations through GPS.
Shelton said CPD can already track its vehicles through a GPS unit installed in the radios. However, some committee members wanted more.
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem — who finishes his tenure on the council today and will be sworn in the state Legislature Monday — said officers aren’t always with their cars. Using camera-phone tracking, he said, could offer a clearer picture of where officers are.
“His car could be there,” he said. “His unit could be there. That whole SOG Unit could have been there, but one of the officers could have been shopping…or somewhere else. Their unit in the car could be in the vicinity but they’re not there and there’s no way that we can track that.”
Committee member Berry Hinds questioned if the line of discussion arose at the meeting because officers leaving their cars is a common problem.
“Someone here apparently has the knowledge that we have officers that are leaving their responsibility and doing something else on a very frequent basis,” Hinds said.
Karriem noted that during his time on the council, one officer suffered a broken leg while being somewhere he or she was not supposed to be while on duty.
Mayor Robert Smith told the committee that the city has received reports of officers being in the wrong place while on duty.
“We’re not going to do it, but we can show you several instances where it’s been reported that one officer was stationed with their significant other for 45 minutes or 50 minutes,” Smith said.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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