Consultant urges better body cam review after police beating
By JONATHAN DREW
Aug. 29, 2018
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A white North Carolina officer charged with beating a black pedestrian had a history of "harmful" behavior caught on body camera, according to an external review that urged thorough audits of police footage to catch behavior problems sooner.
The report on Asheville police procedures surrounding former officer Christopher Hickman noted he had shown inappropriate behavior among fellow members of the department and was difficult to supervise. The report was presented to the City Council on Tuesday by 21CP Solutions, a consulting firm hired by the city that includes former law enforcement officials.
"A former supervisor described Officer Hickman as a class clown who was abrasive, opinionated, and lacking a filter," the report said.
The report said even before the August 2017 beating that resulted in criminal charges, Hickman's body camera captured him in behavior that was "harmful to the community and his trainee." It didn't provide specifics. Local officials have previously said a review of Hickman's body camera footage, conducted after the 2017 beating, showed problematic interactions between him and residents.
The report recommended closer internal scrutiny of body camera footage, saying the department "should implement a more structured policy regarding (body camera) audits, particularly for officers identified as possibly being problematic."
The Asheville police body camera policy in place around the time Hickman was charged required department technology officers to review a sampling of body camera footage from officers around the department each month.
"Given the previous complaints and performance deficiencies, it would follow that Officer Hickman's (body camera) footage could reasonably be subjected to closer scrutiny than a random monthly sample," the report said.
Susanna Birdsong, an ACLU lawyer who studies body camera policy, said her organization advises police departments to thoroughly inspect officers' body camera footage as often as weekly, though departments' practices vary.
"They can really only fulfill the promise of accountability and transparency if the footage is reviewed regularly and thoroughly, especially when we're talking about officers with complaints filed against them in the past," said Birdsong, who's not involved in the Hickman case.
The 21CP Solutions report on Asheville also recommended training to encourage officers to step in when colleagues engage in excessive force or other unacceptable behavior. And it urged changes to the selection process for officers who train new members of the department, noting Hickman was supervising a trainee at the time of the beating.
The city of Asheville has reached a $650,000 settlement with the pedestrian, Johnnie Rush.
Police footage, which became public after it was leaked to a newspaper, showed former officer Hickman punching, choking and shocking Rush, whom officers had accused of jaywalking. State law generally requires a judge to approve public releases of body camera video.
Hickman has been charged with assault. His attorney didn't immediately respond to an email Wednesday.
Despite the shortcomings it identified, the consultant's report noted that the police department is already working on changes and has been recognized before by accrediting agencies for strong performance: "As such, the events of the past year should not be taken to suggest that the department or city is in a state of gross dysfunction or failure."
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