In explaining his decision to clear a Spokane police officer involved in a fatal shooting last month, Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell noted that several officers at the scene had not activated their body cameras.
That prompted Spokane City Council member Breean Beggs to ask questions.
Although he did not ask for specifics about the case of Spokane police Officer Brandon Rankin, who was not charged in the fatal shooting of 35-year-old David Novak in January, Beggs asked for information about how and when officers activate their body cameras.
“It just left me wondering how often is that happening, and how are we addressing that?” Beggs asked.
Spokane police Maj. Kevin King told the Public Safety & Community Health Committee on Monday that he has not reviewed the Rankin case and declined to comment on its details, but noted that he does review all uses of force, pursuits, and vehicle collisions. He estimated that the department receives about 400 to 500 videos from officer body cameras every day.
King said the department has a “very, very high compliance rate” with its body camera policy.
The policy states that officers “shall activate the body camera upon encountering any situation that could be construed as a law enforcement activity,” but makes exceptions for when a citizen objects to being recorded, when the activity involves sensitive communications or when recording would be “unsafe or impractical.”
“To my memory, I have not seen a single case where somebody has not had their camera on at all. Usually what it consists of is that they put their camera on late,” said King, who added it would be a “serious policy violation” to respond to an entire call without turning on the camera.
Last month, Haskell said Rankin’s body camera was activated and that the footage could be obtained through a public records request. One or two other officers had not activated their body cameras, he said.
The department’s body camera policy allows for some leniency, such as in the case of an officer jumping out of his car to join a foot pursuit and forgetting to first turn on his body camera, King explained.
The cameras are always recording on a buffer, so the 60 seconds prior to their activation will be preserved.
The most common policy violation is that officers do not turn on their cameras before they exit their vehicles.
“It’s a pretty minor policy violation, but it’s still something that we address,” King said.
Since the body camera policy went into effect in 2017, only two officers have received a letter of reprimand.
Following the prosecutor’s announcement last month, Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl said his department would begin its own internal review of the incident, which could take several months.