KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Auditor’s Office released a report of the police department’s body-worn camera (BWC) program Tuesday and included several recommendations for improvement.

The audit found that during two months last year, one out of five times when officers were dispatched, there was no body camera video of what happened.

The audit shows that although Kansas City generally follows policy, it can be improved in areas including classification of footage, recording all calls and timely uploads.

City Auditor Douglas Jones said changes are needed to head off questions about police actions.

One of the goals of the police body camera program is to improve transparency by making it easier to understand interactions between police and citizens. But when officers don’t record video of a call, that could raise questions from the public as to what actually happened.

There are exceptions to body camera recording, such as when officers enter private spaces like locker rooms, rest rooms and private homes. But officers are required to document those exceptions by narrating their reasons on the video before turning the camera off.

“We were only able to watch 98 videos,” Jones said. “There were 17 videos where some of them started the video after the interaction with the public, or they ended it early. When they end it early, the policy says you’re supposed to narrate why you ended it early. But the policy doesn’t say if you start late, say why you started it late. We made a recommendation to add that to their policy.”

Overall, Jones believes the body camera program is off to a good start.

Many cities have had trouble getting police to record every interaction with the public. Jones called Kansas City’s 80% success rate good compared to cities like Atlanta, where only 40% of police calls were properly recorded when officers there started using body cameras.

Here’s a deeper dive into the city’s audit:

Missing body camera video

According to the report, 20% of police dispatches in July and August 2021 were missing body worn camera footage, and the department did not have explanations for the missing videos.

The audit recommended the police chief to implement a process to compare the number of dispatches and self-initiated calls to the number of recorded videos and address discrepancies.

“Calls for service and self-initiated calls that are not recorded as required or without acceptable documentation of an exception may result in evidence or interactions not being recorded or reduces the department’s transparency and could raise questions from the public as to why the dispatched officer did not record,” the audit reads.

KCPD said they believe it is likely due to a learning curve.

Misclassification

The report says some videos were classified as non-evidence, even though they led to traffic tickets, meaning they should have fallen under the misdemeanor/citation/summons categories.

The misclassification of these files could have led to premature deletion of the files as that process is automatic.

KCPD’s system defaults videos as “non-evidence” and the report recommends changing the default to “unclassified” to stop the issue from continuing.

Timely upload of videos

The City Auditor’s Office found that 7% of body-worn cameras were not “docked timely” and videos were uploaded more than 24 hours after they were recorded.

KCPD’s policy states: “Officers will dock their BWC in the provided docks at the end of their tour of duty to ensure digital media upload and charging.”

The report states that of those videos, they were uploaded between one and five days later than policy requires.

The upload of these videos in a timely manner allows evidence to be available and secure and allows equipment to be properly charged and ready for the next use.

The auditor’s office recommends the chief of police to implement a process to ensure officers are docking their equipment on time.

Summary

The full report gives 11 recommendations to improve policy for KCPD officers and body worn camera footage, including providing officers with refresher courses and training to ensure the issues they found are being addressed and improved upon.

The City Auditor’s Office also recommended the police chief to include performance measures and goals to the body worn camera policy to be included in a periodic public report.

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