Body camera program aimed to protect Aurora’s code, animal control staff


AURORA | Sometimes they have to tell someone to chop down the weeds towering in their front lawn — often for the third or fourth time.

Other times the city’s code enforcement officers have to demand a homeowner get an abandoned car out of their yard, or to shovel the snow piled on the sidewalk in front of their home.

And, naturally, many homeowners aren’t especially pleased when the code officers come calling.

“When people are required to correct violations, sometimes repeat visits are required which can increase frustrations,” said Malcolm Hankins, director of Neighborhood Services, which includes Aurora Animal Services and Neighborhood Support-Code Enforcement.

With that potential for volatile situations, city officials announced last month that code officers and animal control officers would start wearing body cameras to record their sometimes-risky interactions with residents.

While police officers around the country — including the bulk of Aurora patrol officers — have worn body cameras for several years, Hankins said the use of the devices is much less common among code and animal control officers. The pilot program for the Aurora code and animal control officers could be among the first in the country.

Under the pilot program, three code officers and three animal protection officers will test the cameras. To start with, all testing will be conducted inside city buildings and they won’t record interactions with the public. Later, they will use the devices for “limited external use involving public interaction,” according to a statement from the city.

Hankins said, during that initial stretch when the devices are used only inside, the department will craft their policies for when to turn the cameras on and how to store the video.

That process could be lengthy. Aurora police, for example, have a seven-page directive detailing how officers should use their body cameras.

The body-worn cameras used by code and animal protection officers buffer 30 seconds of video when they are turned on, but only record video and audio when activated by the wearer. During the pilot project, any resident interacting with a code enforcement or animal protection officer wearing a body-worn camera can request that the recording be stopped, the city statement said. Video from the initial testing period will not be saved, the statement said, unless it has a specific evidentiary value to Neighborhood Services or police.

Already, City Council has set aside $32,000 in their 2017 budget for 40 cameras for 24 code enforcement and 14 animal protection officers to wear.

Aurora code officers know well the risks of the job. In 2008, Aurora code officer Rodney Morales was gunned down while on duty in northwest Aurora. Police gathered a mountain of evidence against the gunman — including DNA evidence putting him at the scene and witnesses who tied him to the shooting — and he was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Still, prosecutors said after the trial that they remained unsure why Morales was killed, and whether he was targeted because of his work as a code officer.

Hankins said the job of a code officer often involves stepping into the middle of heated disputes between neighbors, so it makes sense to take steps to ensure officers are safe.

“The job in general can place code officers in volatile situations,” he said.