DC police officers dispute body-worn camera ‘misconduct’

D.C. police officers are pushing back against its complaints office regarding misconduct captured on body cam footage.

Michael Tobin, director of the Office of Policing Complaints, testified during an oversight hearing last week that in nearly half the videos reviewed following a complaint, officers broke department rules. Tobin said they were not major offenses, in most cases.

“The majority of it is … an officer not telling the community member that, ‘Hey, you are being recorded.’ And then the second biggest violation that we’re seeing is officers turning off the camera too early,” he told Chair Brooke Pinto, Ward 2 council member, during a Public Safety and Judiciary Committee hearing.

But D.C. Police Union President Gregg Pemberton took issue with Tobin’s characterization of misconduct, calling it “utterly false.”

“He is suggesting that officers failing to notify the public that their camera is running is ‘misconduct.’ Unfortunately, this is not as clear-cut as he suggests. The General Order covering this policy states, ‘When practicable, members shall inform contact subjects that they are being recorded at the beginning of the contact,'” Pemberton wrote in a statement.

Of the 794 complaints that came into the office in 2022, only 12 cases were sustained after review by a hearing examiner. Pemberton questioned why none of the violations resulted in charges against the officers.

“Tobin has the authority to launch and sustain investigations into misconduct, or refer them to MPD Internal Affairs; however, he did not do that in any of these alleged cases. I doubt that Mr. Tobin found these cases to be serious, if he in fact did not refer them for investigation,” Pemberton wrote.

It is up to the Chief of Police to enforce the General Order and the body-worn camera policies within it, Tobin said. Tobin told WTOP that the cases were referred to the chief, but that his department’s responsibility ends there.

Tobin testified that the department gets about 800 complaints about officers each year.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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