The mandatory public release of audio and video footage from officer-involved shootings is being considered under a policy change sought by the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.
The civilian oversight board held a Thursday public hearing on the proposed policy as it gathers feedback and negotiates language with the Detroit Police Department over the next three weeks ahead of a final vote. The changes were recommended by BOPC staff. Residents can submit feedback by calling (313) 596-1830, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or during the public comment portion of weekly BOPC meetings.
Minister Eric Blount from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a frequent critic of the city’s policing policies, said releasing body camera footage would “go a long way” to improve trust. The partial release of footage from the fatal shooting of Porter Burks last year leaves the community with unanswered questions, he said.
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“Why not let the facts speak for themselves,” Blount said. “Just release the video. I only have to remind you of the great tragedy of the killing of Porter Burks. The police department stopped that video before shots were fired and the narrative we got from the police department is totally unbelievable.”
Police commissioners called for Detroit Police Chief James White to release the complete unedited footage of the incident. BOPC Secretary Victoria Shah said DPD agreed to release the full video after a May meeting with commissioners, but has not yet done so. BOPC Vice Chair Jim Holley noted that the Detroit Law Department restricted the full video from being released due to an ongoing lawsuit.
A department spokesperson told BridgeDetroit Friday afternoon that DPD is reviewing the proposed policy changes and will provide more information about White’s view on releasing body camera footage.
Burks’ family filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against five unnamed officers and the City of Detroit last November. Burks, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot at least 19 times by police who responded to a 911 call reporting he was having a mental health crisis and armed with a knife.
An edited video released last October shows officers pleading with Burks to drop his knife and come with them to get help. The video shows Burks walking in the middle of the street before turning to run toward the group of officers, who opened fire on the 20-year-old. Officers and a supervisor involved in the incident were later suspended, but the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office determined the shooting was justified.
The proposal would require the release of full audio and video footage from a “critical incident,” typically defined as a situation resulting in injury or death, within five days. There is currently no policy requiring the automatic release of footage, though DPD has responded to public records requests for body camera videos.
If the footage can’t be released due to a legal reason, DPD must provide a memo to the board explaining what footage is being withheld and citing the applicable law.
Shah said DPD releases footage on a case-by-case basis, though there is currently no requirement. She said it’s preferable to have a uniform standard for releasing audio and videos after an incident.
The board is also considering changes that would require quarterly reporting of critical incidents for a rolling three-year period, including data that allows BOPC to track trends. The board could also require DPD to be notified within four hours of an officer-involved shooting and be briefed by Chief James White within three days of the incident.
Commissioner Ricardo Moore said the proposed revisions are “excellent,” specifically pointing to another change requiring officers involved in a shooting to report for police medical examination unless otherwise directed by a deputy chief. BOPC Secretary Victoria Shah said current policy allows a supervisor to waive the medical exam.
Commissioner Ricardo Moore said the proposed revisions are “excellent,” specifically pointing to another change requiring a deputy chief rather than a supervisor to decide whether an officer involved in a shooting can skip a police medical examination.
Shah said she met with DPD policy staff this week and the department appeared open to discussing changes, though no commitments were made.
“I’m not sure what happens if the board and DPD cannot come to an agreement on policy,” Shah said. I’m interested to see how this really plays out, if the board stands firm and the department says no.”
DPD reported 1,526 incidents where police used force in 2022.