Washington DC April 27 2018 U.S. Park Police officers were forbidden from wearing body cameras while on the job, according to an internal memo obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The March 2015 memo that U.S. Park Police (USPP) Chief Robert MacLean wrote to the entire force expressly told officers not to use any audio or video recorders “while on duty.”
He cited the lack of a department-wide policy for body cameras as the reason why officers could not record their time on the job.
“While we recognize the potentially positive benefits associated with body worn cameras, the Force does not currently have a program or policy in place. As such, and until such time that the force authorizes implementation, employees are not authorized to utilize such a device (whether Force or personally owned) to record video or audio while on duty,” the memo read.
The only exception to the rule, MacLean wrote, would be if a division commander authorized the wearing of a recording device for a “special investigation.”
A USPP spokesperson said that the memo was meant to deter agents from using their own recording devices while on the job, since there was no formal policy in place. The 2015 memo is still active since the Park Police still lacks a formal policy on body cameras.
“The United States Park Police does not currently have nor ever had a body-worn camera program, the equipment, or a policy,” MacLean told The Hill in a statement. The 2015 Memorandum was published to prohibit the use of unauthorized devices outside the scope of policy and regulations. Other prohibitive factors that informed the issuance of the 2015 memo included: funding, staffing, IT infrastructure, and video storage solutions.”
The Park Police has been under scrutiny since a November police chase on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Washington, D.C. The chase ended with officers firing nine shots into a Jeep Grand Cherokee, killing 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar. Family members say Ghaisar was unarmed.
Footage of the shooting was made public in late January by police officers from Fairfax County, Va., who were on the scene. The Park Police officers involved in the incident were not wearing body cameras
The nighttime dash-cam footage shows two Park Police officers with their faces blurred as they attempt three times to pull over a Jeep on the Parkway. On the third time, officers drive in front of the man’s Jeep at a stop sign with guns drawn. The Jeep appears to be trying to roll forward on multiple occasions, with officers opening fire until the car stops and flips on its side into a ditch.
The case has been turned over to the FBI.
Currently, the Interior Department, which oversees U.S. Park Police, lacks an official policy on the use of body cameras by officers.
A February investigation by the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) found that the department only has a draft policy on body camera usage, and at this point, it is voluntary.
“To date, bureau use of body cameras has been voluntary and decisions to purchase equipment are generally made at the field or regional level,” the IG report said.
The report said bureaus — including the Park Police — are currently in the process of issuing their own policies.
In late February, Maclean met with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) to talk about the lack of a policy; during that meeting, he expressed support for the use of car and body cameras by the force. Both lawmakers say they plan to introduce legislation requiring body cameras for all uniformed federal police officers.
“It is clear that equipping Park Police and other federal law enforcement officers with cameras can help establish trust and transparency, helping police and the public alike,” Norton and Beyer said in a joint statement at the time.
Park Police officers have jurisdiction in D.C and areas in New York, San Francisco and a number of counties in northern Virginia.
On April 5, the FBI for the second time denied a request by Beyer for an update on the federal investigation into the shooting.
In the letter obtained by WTOP, acting FBI Deputy Assistant Director Zachary Lowe told Beyer, “While we appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention and empathize with the Ghaisars, long-standing policy generally precludes us from commenting on the status or existence of any potential investigative matter.”
The FBI had previously confirmed it was investigating the incident. No charges have been filed against the Park Police officers involved.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has said he wants the shooting fully investigated.
Speaking at a town hall meeting with Interior employees in D.C. in January, Zinke said, “We’ll get to the bottom of it if there’s inappropriateness. We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing. So we want to hold ourselves accountable, and when you are law enforcement you are held to a higher standard because you have a badge.”