Billing officer only activated body camera after fatal shooting, police chief says
BILLINGS – Billings Police Officer Brett Hilde only activated his body camera after he fired eight shots at a suspect on Tuesday night, killing the 40-year-old Billings man, according to the Chief of Rich St. John font.
The incident called into question the department’s policy on body cameras.
“We have policies that require activation, and he did,” St. John said Wednesday. “But giving him the benefit of the doubt, it’s just seconds from when he stopped and opened the door to be pointed.”
At a press conference, St. John came to Hilde’s defense, saying he only had seconds to act to resolve a dangerous situation.
“Before he could issue any challenges or orders, subject pointed a gun directly at him,” St. John said.
the Billings Police Department Policy Manual states: Officers must activate video and audio equipment – including body cameras – to record all investigative and enforcement contacts with citizens. But that there are two exceptions, namely: If the safety of officers or citizens would be compromised by the activation.
“Honestly, he’s worried about whether he’s going to get in trouble for turning the thing on, we’ll work with that,” St. John said.
The body camera policy has been in place since July 2021, when the department completed full implementation among its patrol units. In the last six months of 2021, five Billings police officers received corrective action for not turning WatchGuard on or turning it off too soon, according to Lt. Brandon Wooley.
There are currently two pending corrective actions for the same violation in 2022.
Hilde works in the Billings Police Street Crimes Unit, which means he drives an unmarked car that is not equipped with a dash cam. The device was also one of the first to receive body cameras, meaning its older model probably didn’t have a pre-recording feature that captures between 30 and 60 seconds before the button is pressed.
St. John said the incident will prompt a reassessment of the department.
“That’s something we’ll be looking at in policy, whether it’s if you’re sent on a call, whatever it is, activate it,” he said. “The problem we have there is storage.”
St. John said they had previously encountered digital storage issues and the video was automatically deleted within 90 days.
The department’s policy is similar to most major cities in Montana with body cameras. Missoula includes a catch-all statement: Any activity that a reasonable agent would know to be important to record.