Lockport Police Department policy lets officers decide whether to turn on a body camera during all incidents aside from traffic stops, but requires officers to carry one on patrol "whenever a unit is available."
City police did not capture quality body camera footage of the July 16 encounter that led to the death of Troy Hodge, Interim Chief Steven Preisch said last month. Two of the four officers who responded to the call were not wearing body cameras, according to Preisch.
Another officer had a body camera on and running for the incident, but it fell off early in the encounter. The other officer's body camera may have been off.
“When they fall, they don’t always work," Preisch said at a rally at city hall on June 20. "The one that fell off had the footage. They were wearing two body-cameras. The other I don’t believe was on.”
Several residents in the crowded and noisy rally appeared to express outrage and incredulity that police did not have body camera footage capturing the exact type of incident that often prompts calls for the technology.
Preisch told rally attendees LPD does not require officers to wear body cameras, except during traffic stops.
But the policy's language gives officers even more discretion.
The policy requires officers to record traffic stops "whenever it is possible to do so," while all other encounters can be recorded "at the officer's judgment and discretion."
For both traffic stops and other encounters, officers are required to continue recording "until the event has concluded" and the officer has left the scene.
However, the policy clearly requires officers to carry body cameras whenever they are available, and places responsibility on the shift supervisor to ensure officers do so.
Capt. Douglas Haak said LPD does "not have enough cameras to outfit every officer," though he could not provide the total number of cameras in LPD's possession. Preisch is on vacation this week and was unavailable for comment.
LPD typically has at least four patrol officers on duty at all times.
The policy does not address body cameras falling off an officer during an encounter.
Preisch said these situations are common, as LPD's cameras simply clip onto an officer's vest.
The uproar following Hodge's death prompted the city's Police Board of Commissioners to discuss purchasing new body cameras at its meeting earlier this month.
The most costly option, at $160,000, would buy Axon, Inc. 44 cameras capable of automatically recording whenever an officer starts their patrol vehicle or draws either their service weapon or Taser. Under the least costly option, each camera would cost $600 to $700.
LPD's current body cameras must be turned on manually, according to the policy.
Four Niagara County Sheriff's Department deputies who responded to 217 Park Ave. on July 16 did wear body cameras that captured portions of the encounter with Hodge. A Freedom of Information Act request for that footage was denied, as was a FOIA for LPD's footage, due to the ongoing investigation by the New York Attorney General's office.
A 2015 executive order requires the attorney general to investigate and act as special prosecutor in cases involving unarmed civilians who die in police encounters, as well as fatal police encounters in which it's unclear whether the deceased was armed.
Police were called to 217 Park Ave. after Hodge's mother, Fatima Z. Hodge, reported her son was running around and saying armed men were coming for them. Dispatchers sent one officer and one ambulance, which initially staged at an area several blocks away.
Hodge, 39, of Lockport, reportedly told the officer he was going inside to retrieve a shotgun, prompting a struggle that turned violent.
Supporters claim Hodge was unarmed and that he was slammed onto the ground and Tased while in handcuffs. An attorney for the officers involved said Hodge brandished a knife, and that the officers did everything they could to avoid using lethal force against Hodge.
Several minutes after the encounter began, Twin City Ambulance rushed Hodge to Eastern Niagara Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators have not yet publicly disclosed how Hodge died.
LPD, responding to a FOIA request, also released its policy for use of lethal force. That policy recommends officers utilize verbal commands, pepper spray and "control techniques," such as wrist locks and escort holds, before resorting to use of a Taser or striking an individual. However, the policy also states that a "defendant's actions will determine the proper defense techniques or devices."
Until the attorney general releases more information about the incident, it won't be clear whether responding officers followed that policy in subduing Hodge. LPD and the sheriff's department denied FOIA requests for the incident reports, again citing the pending investigation.