Are Salt Lake City Police Required to Wear Body Cameras?

The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and other victims have increased public awareness of police brutality in recent years, leading activists and lawmakers to call for greater oversight of departments throughout the country.  In an effort to help hold officers accountable for violent crimes against civilians by providing clear and objective records of police confrontations, many states, including Utah, have implemented stricter standards for the use of body cameras.

Do SLCPD Officers Use Body Cameras, and Does it Reduce Police Misconduct?

Hundreds of bills found their way to the desk of Governor Gary Herbert as a result of the 2016 Utah State Legislature; among them, H.B. 300: a bill regulating the usage of body cameras among Utah police officers.  The Governor signed the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Daniel McCay (R-Riverton), on March 30, 2016.  While the bill doesn’t mandate the use of body cameras within Utah police departments, it does create a set of statewide minimum standards each participating department must adhere to.

Among those departments is Salt Lake City, whose police officers have been using body cameras since 2013.  The department started out with a shipment of just 15 cameras, a number which, according to the SLCPD website, swelled to nearly 300 units by the end of the year.

Research has shown that body cameras can help to effectively reduce the rate of police misconduct and violence.  A study conducted on the Orlando Police Department by the University of South Florida, which compared 46 officers who wore body cameras against 43 officers who did not, revealed a 53% drop in use-of-force incidents, as well as a 65% drop in formal complaints, in the camera-wearing group.

Can Members of the Public View Body Cam Footage?

The high-tech cameras cost about $3,400 each.  It’s a small price to pay for greater accountability, which is exactly what 35 dissatisfied local residents showed up to demand at a Salt Lake City Council meeting conducted just two weeks before Governor Herbert signed off on the body camera bill — and just two weeks after Abdullahi Omar Mohamed, 17, was seriously injured by a non-fatal shooting near 200 South Rio Grande Street.

One attendee, Jason Cronin, described the city’s residents as “furious” at local instances of excessive force, adding, “We feel something is amok because the civilian review board has become useless.”  Others demanded immediate release of the footage, which Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced, just days before the meeting, would not go public until an unspecified date in the future when investigations were completed.

Various members of the SLCPD are outfitted with body cameras: “Officers in first-responder roles, including Patrol, Metro Support, Motors, Bikes, SWAT, Gangs, Accident Investigators, and Truck Inspectors.”  However, the footage is not available to the public for “general viewing,” which makes access difficult.  A person seeking body camera footage would have to file a GRAMA request under the Government Records Access and Management Act.

Body Camera Rules for Law Enforcement Under the Utah Code

gavel pictured with flag and legal book

The new body camera standards are set forth in Chapter 7a of the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure. Utah Code § 77-7a-102(1) requires all Utah police departments that use body cameras to comply with these standards, which include the following points:

  • Utah Code § 77-7a-102(3) — Officers are not required to turn a body camera on or off if doing either would endanger the officer’s safety or that of the general public.
  • Utah Code § 77-7a-104(3) — Officers must wear the camera in such a way that the device is plainly visible to whoever is being recorded.
  • Utah Code § 77-7a-104(4) — Unless there is a safety risk, the officer must turn the camera on before, or whenever reasonably possible, any “law enforcement encounter,” which includes:
    • Any use of force.
    • Dispatched calls.
    • Execution of arrest warrants and search warrants.
    • Field interviews and field interrogations.
    • Traffic stops, including traffic violations, crime-related stops such as DUI stops, and stopping to help stranded motorists.
    • “Any other contact that becomes adversarial after the initial contact in a situation that would not otherwise require recording.”
  • Utah Code § 77-7a-104(7) — If the officer used a body camera during an encounter, he or she must make note of its use in any official report or record he or she files.
  • Utah Code § 77-7a-104(8) — Once an officer has activated a body camera, he or she cannot deactivate it, notwithstanding safety considerations, until the encounter is over. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule.  Under Utah Code § 77-7a-104(9), officers are allowed to turn their cameras off for the following reasons:
    • There is a “significant period of inactivity.”
    • The officer needs to confer with another officer, or with a supervisor.
    • The officer is talking to a crime victim or witness and the person would like the camera to be turned off, provided the officer also (1) records the person’s request to turn the camera off, and (2) thinks the person’s information is valuable enough to justify the lack of a recording.

Arrested in Salt Lake City? Contact an Experienced Utah Defense Lawyer

If one of your family members is in custody at the Salt Lake County Jail after getting arrested by the SLCPD, it’s important that your loved one is represented by an experienced defense attorney who will aggressively protect their legal rights as a defendant.  Remember, police officers are allowed to lie in certain situations in order to extract incriminating statements from criminal suspects. A Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your rights.

Call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 to set up a free legal consultation with Utah criminal lawyer Darwin Overson.  With over 16 years of experience fighting felony charges and misdemeanor charges throughout Utah, Darwin is passionate about guarding the Constitutional rights of detainees and defendants.  It may be possible to have your criminal case dismissed if you were a victim of police brutality or other misconduct.