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Sacramento police issue new rules on muting body cameras

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The Sacramento Police Department has issued new direction on how and when officers can mute their body cameras, according to the police chief.

The temporary order comes as footage from a police body camera captured someone telling officers to mute their body cameras last month after police fatally shot Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man in his grandmother’s backyard. The muting of the cameras stoked suspicion among community members.

The order, issued last Wednesday, is effective immediately while the department updates its policy, Police Chief Daniel Hahn told the city council Tuesday as he answered questions on police procedures and police.

Officers can mute or deactivate their body cameras when talking to a doctor, nurse or paramedic or when a victim or witness refuses to give a recorded statement, the police chief said.

Other instances include when working with sexual assault or rape and in extraordinary circumstances and only with a supervisor’s approval, Hahn said.

“Any time an officer deactivates or mutes their camera, they must now audibly record on that camera the reason for the deactivation and muting before ever muting,” Hahn told the council.

Hahn said the department policy around the time of Clark’s death addressed deactivation but not specially muting the body cameras.

Officers were given direction regarding muting in their body camera training. Those instances included for personal conversations, personnel conversations with a supervisor or tactical discussions, the police chief said.

The body cameras were implemented within the past year, Hahn said.

Hahn said the department already had been updating the body camera policy and looking at the issue of muting before the March 18 shooting.

Two Sacramento officers who shot Clark, 22, were responding to a report that a man had broken car windows and was hiding in a backyard, police said.

Police said they pursued a man – later identified as Clark – who hopped a fence into his grandmother’s property.

They fired at Clark because they believed he was pointing a gun at them, police have said. But, only his cellphone was found at the scene.

Police fired 20 times at Clark. An independent autopsy shows Clark was shot by Sacramento police eight times, and six of those wounds were in his back, according to Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist retained by Clark’s family to conduct a separate autopsy.

The shooting led to days of proteststension and calls for accountability and police reform.

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