As our community and the world mourn the tragic death of Justine Damond at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer — an event that now appears to have contributed to the resignation of Police Chief Janeé Harteau — at least a couple of police practices in the city demand additional, swift attention and action. Body and squad video cameras must be turned on and used properly. And more should be done to employ the best possible officer training and assure that cops live up to that training.
Damond, a 40-year-old meditation teacher, was fatally shot a week ago by officer Mohamed Noor after he and a partner responded to a call for service. Damond had called 911 because she thought she heard a possible sexual assault in progress near her south Minneapolis home. Shortly after officers arrived, Damond was shot in the abdomen as she approached the squad car.
Although Minneapolis cops have been outfitted with bodycams for about a year, the cameras were not turned on during the call to Damond’s home. According to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension officials investigating the shooting, no video was recorded from either officer or the squad-mounted cameras.
Though the Minneapolis Police Department spent about $2 million on bodycams, KSTP-TV recently reported that the devices are underused. March data from the department, the report documented, show that officers wearing body cameras recorded an average of 5.2 to 6.1 hours during the entire month. That’s unacceptably low usage and must change.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Harteau both said in response to the shooting that the bodycams should have been turned on when the officers arrived at Damond’s address. Both said the camera use policy was being reviewed for any needed changes. It’s regrettable that it took Damond’s death — and likely KSTP’s earlier reporting — to highlight shoddy police practices that should already have been addressed.
In her resignation statement on Friday, Harteau wrote: “The recent incidents do not reflect the training and procedures we developed as a department. Despite the MPD’s many accomplishment under my leadership … I have to put the communities we serve first. I’ve decided I am willing to step aside to let a fresh set of leadership eyes see what more can be done for the MPD to be the very best it can be.’’ A top priority of that fresh leadership — Hodges announced Friday that she will nominate current Assistant Chief Medaria “Rondo” Arradondo as chief — should be ensuring that squad car and body cameras are used properly.
Across the nation, body camera policies vary. Some cities require activation when officers respond to any call for service. But the Minneapolis policy lists about a dozen specific circumstances — such as arrests and vehicle stops — that come with a wide degree of officer discretion.
The nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum recommends that all officers be required to activate body cameras “when responding to all calls for service and during all law enforcement-related encounters and activities that occur while the officer is on duty.” That’s not the case in Minneapolis.
The City Council stepped up its criticism on Friday. At least some council members would like to see a change in the city’s charter, which gives the mayor “complete” authority over the Police Department and its policies. For now, how Hodges handles the erosion of public confidence in the city’s police force may well determine her political future.
An often go-to response following police-involved shooting deaths is to call for improved training. In her news conference Thursday, Harteau said that Noor completed his training “very well’’ and that he was “very well suited to be on the street.” Although Noor has yet to provide his side of the story, Harteau said, “Justine didn’t have to die.” She said the officer’s actions — not his training — were to blame for the woman’s death.
That may be so, but we’ll reserve final judgment on Noor until the case plays out. In the meantime, everything about the Minneapolis Police Department — from its leadership to its training and its day-to-day procedures — deserves scrutiny.