On Tuesday, the members of the Antioch City Council were serving as members of the Police Oversight Committee in which they rejected a policy for body worn cameras and mobile video audio recorder policies.
By rejecting the policy as drafted, it will delay the implementation of body worn cameras out on the streets by at least a month, if not longer.
The move comes after the City of Antioch announced the July 13 City Council meeting was cancelled for “summer Break”, however, the Council instead met on the same night as the police oversight standing committee – this was with little public notice or attention.
During the meeting, the standing committing was asked to recommend and review policy on body-worn cameras and mobile video audio recorder. If the committee approved the policy, it would go to the council at an official council meeting while if they did not approve it, it would go back for more review and adjustments.
Antioch Police Chief Tammany Brooks provided information on the policy.
- March 9, 2021 – Council approved purchase and use of body-worn camera and dash cameras. (see Story)
- April 13. 2021 – Council established the police reform standing committee and then renamed it to Police Oversight Standing Committee – which reviews and recommends policy.
Brooks highlighted that a committee within the police department was created to establish a policy within each program which met numerous times while researching other departments, federal and state laws and industry best practices before putting together the policy.
He also said the department has already received its body worn cameras and even assigned officers their cameras with training set for July 20-23.
“Upon completion of that training approval of the body worn camera policy, we are prepared to immediately to deploy our officers into the field equipped with this technology bringing a new era of transparency, accountability and safety to our community as well as our officers,” said Brooks.
The in-car cameras will arrive next month which will require an installation and more training.
Brooks said he hoped they could approve a policy so they can utilize the body worn cameras immediately and not left sitting idle.
After several speakers who made recommendations for the Committee to postpone making a decision until more public input while also utilizing ACLU recommendations. Others accused the department of simply taking best practices of other departments.
During committee comments, Councilmember Lori Ogorchock asked the chief about how the department came up with the policy.
Brooks explained he did not write the policy, but rather this was a joint effort from a group of employees within the police department (union, supervisors, professional staff, people who have worked in other agencies), reviewed best practices from other departments in the area and around the state, consulted the ACLU policy.
“It was a joint effort from employees at the police department who all have a vested interested in trying to get this technology to benefit not only the officers but the community as well from trust, transparency and accountability,” said Brooks.
Ogorchock asked about the ALCU and how they recommended holding into video for 6-months, she pointed out the Antioch Police policy would be holding onto video for no less than 2-years.
Councilmember Mike Barbanica asked clarification over when the cameras turn on.
“Its my understanding reading this policy its pretty simple that an officer gets out of the car for any sort of enforcement stop, makes a traffic stop, makes a pedestrian stop, goes in and handles a call for service, anything other than having a break for lunch or somebody flags them down, pretty much other than that, the video is going to be rolling,” said Barbanica.
The chief confirmed.
“When an officer activates their overhead lights the video automatically engages as well as the car automatically engages when we get that,” asked Barbanica.
The chief confirmed.
“The reality is this is the public has asked us to create transparency and I believe by having every enforcement stop video and audio taped as well as every time the overhead lights go on they automatically turn on, every time the officer gets out of a car, they automatically activate. Its pretty straight forward,” stated Babanica.
Chief Brooks added that if a police officer draws his/her firearm it automatically turns on and eventually if they get taser it would turn on but not under the current taser technology the police department has.
Barbanica also confirmed if an officer “forgets” to turn on a camera, other officers in proximity could turn on the camera for all officers in an area.
Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson had concerns over certain wording such as “reasonable effort” that she wanted cleaned up. She also had concerns over discipline and called the language “vague.”
Chief Brooks highlighted the language is vague because depending on the incident/officer, there could be varying circumstances which results in a certain punishments—the subjectiveness would allow the chief to look at an appropriate level of discipline.
“I get why sometimes we do need vagueness; I am not asking us to write it into a corner but I don’t want to leave it so open that is so gray area that something is misinterpreted or someone that does violate uses this gray area to avoid discipline or ultimately terminated,” said Wilson. “I would like the language tightened up a little more… I want to get this right; it may seem like I am being nit-picky, but I really want to get this right.”
Chief Brooks noted that if you look at Antioch Police policy, none of them have a defined discipline for a violation and its made that way—such as written reprimand to termination but that didn’t make any more defined than a policy that outlines discipline.
Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe chimed in stating he agreed with Wilson on the vagueness.
“At the end of the day, the five of us are the policy makers. What staff brings forward is draft policies that are from the practitioner approach, which is fine, but once we adopt any of these policies they are our policies,” explained Thorpe. “We will own whatever it is we end up going with.”
“When I hear the public talk about the ACLU model or concerns about public input, I think what they are saying is what protections are there for them,” said Thorpe.
He called it a “new day in Antioch” and that they were doing things differently in terms of policy and will move forward with initial policy but expand it work in protections for the public and how officers will be held responsible.
Barbanica suggested the council move forward with what they have in place tonight and if there were any changes, they could make them in the future.
“Instead of prolonging this another month before we get these out on the street, lets at least get them out on the street and get them active. If there is something we need to tighten up with language, we can always do that through this or the council side,” said Barbanica. “We can always amend a policy but lets at least get them going, that would be a great start.”
Ogorchock agreed stating for accountability, transparency and safety of public and officers that they should move forward.
“We have them and should get them on our officers as soon as possible to get out,” said Ogorchock. “The public has been crying out for these cameras and council has not put this forward. Now that its hear, its imperative we get these on our officers and out as soon as we can.”
Tamisha Torres-Walker, who is chair of the committee, agreed with the community and they should get it right the first time rather than go back and change policy. She also agreed with Wilson on some of the statements in the policy and stated she could go through and wordsmith both policies, but wanted to see the Chief work with he city attorney and come back to the committee for a second reading followed by the council.
“There are still so many questions,” stated Torres-Walker. “Language like make a reasonable effort should be eliminated and I think anywhere it says may activate or should activate should be eliminated and be replaced with shall activate.”
She also suggested they make holding onto video 3-to-5 years instead of the 2-years as proposed. She also had concerns over discipline saying a lot was left open to interpretation. She also wanted vehicle cameras to turn on at 80-85 mph versus the 100-mph on city streets.
“I know the community has been waiting a very long time for the body cameras and in-car cameras, previous councils have not moved this forward and I understand that we want to move this forward, me more than anybody, want to move this forward but I believe we should take back from the community what we heard today and concerns from councilmembers and come back,” said Torres-Walker. “I don’t think I can support this policy as is right now today to move forward to the council for further action.”
Brooks addressed the storage issues and 2-years versus 5-years, when video is tagged to an incident, lawsuit or complaint, that video is saved and kept indefinitely. The two-year purge mark is when its never brought to our attention that anybody wants it. If there is a complaint or part of a case, the video is saved for as long as the case is pending.
Ogorchock then made a motion to accept the body worn camera and mobile video audio recorder policies. Barbanica seconded the motion. It failed in a 2-3 vote with Thorpe, Wilson and Torres-Walker voting against.
At this point, Thorpe nearly failed to cast his vote as he appeared away from his computer before finally responding after multiple attempts. He cited he was dealing with a sick child. He asked what they were voting on which Torres-Walker explained they were voting on whether or not to move the policy forward, essentially getting a replay of the discussion. He asked the assistant city manager what the votes were prior to his vote. Thorpe then voted no.
“I would encourage the chair to work with the department heads and city manager on these policies. It’s very important I think you Chair Torres-Walker that you the chief have a sit down and figure out these differences so I am going to go with your recommendation and vote no,” said Thorpe.
Wilson then made a motion for the Chair, the Chief and city attorney to work on the policy and bring it back to the committee. There was then debate over timelines, police union approval due to change in working conditions.
“We are then looking at the middle to end of August for this to be finalized just so the council is aware that is another month to a month and a half until the cameras are on the officers out on the street,” said Ogorchock. “So, I hope nothing happens in that period of time.”
Torres-Walker then said its been “so many years without these body cameras” and is a sense of urgency and would hope no incident would occur before the cameras are operational. She supported Wilsons motion to work on this with the chief and city attorney, while adding in the city manager to the discussion.
The committee then voted 5-0 to approve the policy be worked on and be brought back.