Sacramento police issue new directive on muting body cameras

Sacramento police have issued their first written policy on when officers can turn off body cameras after two officers muted their microphones following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in his grandparents' backyard.

Deputy Chief Ken Bernard discussed the new policy Monday at a meeting of the Community Police Review Commission after it was issued to officers last week.

Body camera footage of the killing of 22-year-old Stephon Clark reveals that two officers were told to mute their microphones several minutes after the shooting that sparked weeks of protests and calls for reform.

The new policy requires officers to verbalize their reason for turning off the microphone.

Body camera use is covered in training but officers haven't received any written direction on when the equipment can be turned off until now, police spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler.

Officers were previously told they could mute their cameras for personal conversations, including those that involve a supervisor, tactical discussions or times when a citizen requests that the camera be turned off, such as during a victim's statement.

The policy was in the works before Clark's shooting but his death prompted the department to issue the guidance more quickly, Chandler said.

He said the department is still investigating who told the officers to turn off the microphones; whether that person is a supervisor; and whether decision was appropriate.

The department is adopting a widely used policy that should already have been in place, said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police use of force.

"At least at this point they've got the proper rules in there now," he said. "It shouldn't happen again, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place."

The new policy says "employees shall not deactivate or mute their (cameras) until the investigative or enforcement activity involving a member of the public has concluded."

Officers can turn off their cameras while dealing with a victim of sexual assault or if a supervisor instructs them to do so.

They can also turn off the equipment if a victim or witness is refusing to provide a statement on camera and the situation is non-confrontational, or when speaking to a doctor, nurse or paramedic.

"Regardless of what the reason was for muting the mic in that instance, it still bred more mistrust, and that is another chip away at the trust in general that we have between the police department and the community," police Chief Daniel Hahn said in a recent interview.

Hahn was set to answer questions from the City Council about police policies at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Activists have called for more investment in lower-income areas in the wake of Clark's shooting.

The city this week announced $1 million in grants designed to entice technology startup companies, with an emphasis toward steering them to lower-income areas like the Meadowview neighborhood where Clark was killed.


Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this story.


This story has been corrected to show the police department spokesman's name is Sgt. Vance Chandler, not Vince Chandler.