Raleigh police change body-camera policy to prevent ‘human error’ after fatal shooting

Vigil remembers Raleigh man killed in police shooting

Family, friends and activists mourn Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, 30, who died in a fatal encounter with a Raleigh police officer Saturday night in an officer-involved shooting near New Bern Avenue.
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Family, friends and activists mourn Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, 30, who died in a fatal encounter with a Raleigh police officer Saturday night in an officer-involved shooting near New Bern Avenue.

The Raleigh Police Department changed its body camera policy to help prevent “human error” less than a week after a fatal police shooting in which an officer did not activate his camera.

The change is described in a two-page memo from Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown to the Raleigh City Council and posted on the city’s website this week.

Senior Officer W.B. Edwards shot and killed 30-year-old Soheil Mojarrad on April 20. Mojarrad was accused of stealing a cell phone and brandishing a knife.

The officer was wearing a body camera but did not turn it on, according to the police chief’s five day report on the shooting. The department’s policy says body cameras should be activated “as soon as feasible during all contacts involving actual or potential violations of the law.”

“Although the investigation ... is ongoing, we re-examined features that could enhance the utility of the camera device in the event the camera is not activated by the officer,” Deck-Brown wrote in the Friday memo. “During this most recent evaluation, the RPD considered three possible alternative recording solutions as a means of preventing the human error of not turning the camera on.”

Police policy states cameras should be turned on at the beginning of an officer’s shift and then go into standby mode until they are activated by an officer with a click of a button.

As of April 26, the revised policy states the department will use a feature of the cameras that allows them to passively record all the time, even if officers fail to activate them. There is no audio during passive recording, and passive recording will be limited if storage space on the camera runs out.

Laura Hourigan, spokeswoman for the Police Department, said each device can store up to 32 gigabits, which can hold about 10 hours of video depending on recording quality.

The other two options the city considered were having the cameras actively recording all of the time — deemed too expensive, according to the chief’s memo — and requiring the cameras to activate automatically during certain situations. The memo did not give an example of such a situation, but noted the cameras already do automatically turn on in these situations:

  • When a dash camera is synced to the body camera and the patrol vehicle’s blue lights are activated
  • The patrol vehicle is involved in a collision
  • When a patrol vehicle’s speed exceeds 75 miles per hour

The city previously cited storage, cost and privacy concerns as reasons for not running officers’ body cameras all the time.

Police have not said whether Edwards had his patrol car’s blue lights on. Workers at the Sheetz gas station at 5200 New Bern Ave. called 911 because of a man who had been asked to leave the business. Edwards arrived at the gas station to fill up his car when a Sheetz employee and customers said someone had taken a cell phone.

Stephanie Lormand interrupts a Raleigh City Council meeting on May 7, after a man was shot and killed by a Raleigh Police officer. People began chanting and asking for police reform.

Members of Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce (PACT) and friends of Mojarrad disrupted a recent City Council meeting and called for police oversight. One of the things they requested were body cameras that automatically turn on when an officer draws her weapon.

The city’s body camera manufacturer, WatchGuard, doesn’t offer that function, Raleigh police spokeswoman Donna-marie Harris has said.

The chief’s memo references a special memorandum on the new policy that “clearly lays out the the mandates regarding the use and activation of the camera.” It says that memorandum is attached to Deck-Brown’s message to council, however the city did not include it when it posted Brown’s message’s online nor was it distributed to council members.

The reference to the special memorandum was inadvertently included in the chief’s message to the council, said city spokeswoman Julia Milstead. The News & Observer made a public records request for the memorandum, but the city had not provided it by late Tuesday afternoon.

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