The push to have police officers record their interactions with body cameras started largely as a way to hold police accountable when they are accused of using inappropriate force. Aurora now is considering having animal control officers and code enforcement officers start wearing the cameras for the safety of officers, rather than the public, and as a way to collect evidence.
This month, three code enforcement officers and three animal control officers will wear the cameras as a pilot program to work out logistical and technological issues, like storage. They’ll mostly wear them on city property and not when interacting with the public, and members of the public who do encounter a camera-wearing officer can ask that the camera be turned off.
If it still seems like the move makes sense after the pilot program, the cameras will be rolled out in the field, said Malcolm Hankins, director of Neighborhood Services for Aurora. It’s not entirely clear when that would happen.
The department’s focus is “squarely on safety,” Hankins said. Back in 2008, code enforcement officer Rodney Morales was shot and killed while conducting a routine zoning inspection.
“We enforce ordinances people don’t always agree with,” Hankins said. “Some of it is physical threats. We did lose a code officer to violence a few years ago. There is a real threat to this job. We want to make sure we provide the tools to do the job and try to have positive interactions with the public.”
The body cameras can also collect evidence during inspections.
“When you deal with code enforcement matters, in your interactions with the public, sometimes statements are made, and it’s a good way to affirm what those statements were or were not,” Hankins said. “We sometimes deal with inconsistencies.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has been worried about this kind of body camera mission creep for a while. In a 2014 blog post, ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley said the use of force issues that arise in policing create one balancing test with privacy concerns, while code enforcement raises another:
“I am not aware of any cases of building inspectors shooting unarmed civilians in the course of their work. The fact is, these jobs do not come with the frightening powers that police officers possess, and so do not need the same kinds of checks on those powers. Deploying body cameras on these workers would bring all the downsides of police body cams— including in some cases filming inside private homes — without any of the benefits. The balance is completely different.”
In a press release about the pilot program, Aurora officials said any interactions with the public that are recorded during the trial period will be discarded at the end of the pilot, unless they have “evidentiary value” to police or code enforcement in a specific case.