Maui Time

Analyzing the Maui Police Department’s policy governing body worn cameras

Filing a request under Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA), MauiTime has obtained a copy of the Maui Police Department’s policy regarding its deployment of body worn cameras (BWCs). While I was reporting our Nov. 29, 2017 cover story “What Happened To Accountability,” MPD public information officer Lt. Gregg Okamoto told me the policy was publicly available, but only through a written public records request.

The policy is eight pages long, and provides all the MPD’s rules for officers who wear the cameras.

“It is the policy of this Department that officers shall activate their BWCs when such use is appropriate in the proper performance of their official duties and the recordings are consistent with this policy and the law,” states the MPD policy. But it’s the very last line of the policy that’s so problematic: “Officers may review their video prior to providing a statement pursuant to an administrative inquiry/investigation.”

For analysis of the MPD’s policy, I sent it to Upturn, a Washington DC-based nonprofit that focuses on social justice and technology. The organization helped produce The Leadership Conference’s November 2017 Policy Scorecard on body-worn cameras (which I wrote about in our Nov. 29 story). That scorecard graded 75 police departments’ policies on eight accountability and social justice criteria: availability of the policy to the public, officer discretion, personal privacy, officer review, footage retention, footage misuse, footage access and biometric use. Though Maui PD wasn’t included in the original analysis, Upturn policy analyst Miranda Bogen agreed to grade the MPD’s policy using the Scorecard.

She sent her thoughts in a Jan. 2 email:

Maui’s body worn camera policy fails on all but two areas of the Body Worn Camera Policy Scorecard, scoring green in only one out of eight categories (Officer Discretion, where it defines events that officers must record and requires officers to justify failures to record).

Maui’s policy doesn’t appear make any effort to ensure that body worn cameras provide transparency or accountability, instead explaining that the purpose of the cameras is only to “accurately record law enforcement actions and to capture evidence for investigations and court proceedings.” Without specific and robust protections for civil rights, Maui’s body worn camera program risks doing nothing more than intensifying disproportionate police surveillance of communities.

It is especially troubling that Maui’s policy allows officers to review their body camera footage before writing incident reports and making statements–even after serious uses of force, including officer involved shootings. Such unrestricted footage review policies risk distorting evidence and undermining community trust, and we believe that departments should instead require what we call “clean reporting,” where officers write initial reports prior to watching footage and then if needed, watch the relevant video and add additional details to their reports. We are also disappointed that the policy doesn’t offer any way for recorded individuals to access footage of themselves, especially if they are filing a police misconduct complaint. (The best performing departments in this area outline a dedicated process by which recorded individuals or their legal representatives can access relevant footage.)

Click here for a PDF of the Maui PD’s body worn camera policy.

Photo of MPD Sergeant Joy Medeiros with body camera courtesy Maui PD