A rundown of how Lawrence police can and cannot use their body cameras and how the public can record police interactions

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

A Lawrence Police Department vehicle is seen in this file photo from September 2018.

Law enforcement has come under new scrutiny nationwide after George Floyd died May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn., after ex-officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck in the street for nearly nine minutes. Usage of body-worn cameras — and failure to capture some incidents — has been one topic of concern.

Chauvin and three other Minneapolis officers were wearing body cameras; however, that kind of evidence has not been available in some other recent officer-involved fatal incidents.

The chief of Louisville Metro Police Department in Louisville, Ky., was recently fired after the mayor there learned that officers involved in the fatal June 1 shooting of David McAtee had failed to activate their body cameras, The Associated Press has reported. That department now also has put in place a policy to require plainclothes officers to wear body cameras during the execution of search warrants following the March 13 death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in her home.

Policies for the Lawrence Police Department’s body-worn camera systems, or BWCS, do give officers some discretion on when to activate or mute their cameras; however, that discretion does not extend to an officer-involved shooting because the cameras automatically activate.

An updated policy manual that LPD uploaded to its website last week includes its new regulations for body-worn cameras, when they’re used, what happens to the footage and more. It also includes a policy on public recording of law enforcement activity.

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All sworn LPD personnel — including officers, detectives, sergeants, captains and the chief of police, referred to as “members” in the policy manual — must wear body cameras while on duty in uniform. They were rolled out departmentwide in January.

Members are supposed to activate their cameras when they respond to calls, Sgt. Amy Rhoads, public information officer, said last week. However, members should not jeopardize their own safety to turn on their cameras, and they may mute the cameras to “discuss issues or concerns with other members on scene,” according to the policy.

The cameras automatically activate at the sound of a gunshot and “shall remain activated,” according to policy. They are always recording in a “passive mode,” Rhoads said, and they retain 30 seconds of video captured before they’re activated, or a “look back” period. That means a 30-second period leading up to a gunshot would be kept.

After such an incident, “Once the involved member(s) is removed from the immediate scene, and placed into a non-involved police vehicle or ambulance, the BWCS may be turned off by a supervisor or authorized designee,” according to the policy.

The Journal-World asked LPD what repercussions its officers could face if they deactivated their body cameras and an incident such as use of force or a complaint of misconduct were to occur.

“Depending upon the outcome of an internal investigation or investigation made by an outside agency (if an officer shooting occurs) the officer may face losing employment, losing the ability to ever be certified as a law enforcement officer, and prosecution for a crime,” Rhoads said via email Thursday.

Members are not required to inform people that they are being recorded, nor are they required to turn off their cameras upon request. If someone wants to submit an anonymous tip, “the decision to record the conversation is at the discretion of the member.”

“Members have the right to record encounters with the public if they have the right to be at, or in, the location,” such as during calls for service, according to the policy.

Under state law, members may covertly record any conversation with consent of just one party — which can mean the member’s own consent — during the course of an investigation if the member believes the recording will be lawful and beneficial to the investigation.

Residents can ask that members record a contact, Rhoads said.

“Officers would not generally record an activity such as foot patrol, or incidental contacts during that activity, unless the contact evolved into an enforcement action or confrontational situation,” Rhoads said. “That said, if there was a situation where an officer contacted an individual on foot patrol, in a convenience store, or during another incidental type contact and was asked to record the contact, an officer would do so.”

Recordings are kept for 90 days and then deleted, with several exceptions. For instance, recordings from death investigations, rapes and some other sexually violent crimes will be kept indefinitely; any other felony or misdemeanor will be kept for five years; citizen complaints for three years; any use of force for seven years; traffic accidents for two years; and traffic citations for one year.

Recordings related to an internal administrative investigation will be kept for the duration of the employee’s tenure with LPD and for five years following the employee’s separation, according to the policy.

Members can’t share, copy, edit or delete any recordings without approval of the chief.

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Regarding public recordings of law enforcement activity, a separate policy in the new manual says that the department recognizes people’s right to record members who are performing their official duties. Members of the department will not prohibit or intentionally interfere with lawful recordings, and any recordings deemed to be evidence of a crime or relevant to an investigation “will only be collected or seized lawfully.”

The public may record from any public place, or from private property where the individual has the legal right to be present, according to the policy; however, members of the public may not interfere by tampering with a witness or suspect, or by being so close that they present a clear safety hazard to the officers or interfere with an officer’s communication with a suspect or witness.

Such footage of incidents could be helpful to an investigation — the BWCS can link video from another camera to the department’s system, Rhoads said.

“So when the incident is over, officers may contact the individual that recorded the encounter and provide them with a link to share the video to our server,” she said. “This is done to obtain as much video of the incident as possible.”

“Whenever practicable,” officers or supervisors should give clear warnings and directions — for instance, advising someone to continue observing or recording from the sidewalk across the street rather than directing someone to clear the area, according to the policy.

Officers should not seize recording devices or media with few exceptions, such as reason to believe immediate seizure is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death.

“Absent exigency or consent, a warrant should be sought before seizing or viewing such recordings,” the policy says. “Reasonable steps may be taken to prevent erasure of the recording.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your photos or videos without a warrant, nor may they delete data under any circumstances.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

Related coverage

June 14, 2020: City leaders want a stronger police review board, more transparency on complaints against officers

June 1, 2020: City leaders concerned over missing yearly reports from police; county leaders content with alternatives to sheriff’s reports

May 17, 2020: Where are the reports? Lawrence police, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office explain the absence of documents about their performance

Jan. 22, 2020: Lawrence city commissioners supportive of police department’s proposed body camera policy

Jan. 20, 2019: With body camera testing nearly complete and policy underway, police expect to begin using cameras this summer

Aug. 28, 2018: Lawrence Police Department to begin testing body cameras soon

Jan. 14, 2018: As Lawrence police draft policies for body cameras, some city leaders want a say


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