BILLINGS — Billings police officer Brett Hilde did not activate his body camera until after he fired eight rounds at a suspect Tuesday night, killing the 40-year-old Billings man, according to police chief Rich St. John.
The incident has called into question the department's body cam policy.
"We do have policies that require activation, and he did," St. John said Wednesday. "But giving him the benefit of the doubt, this is seconds from the time he pulled up and opened the door to getting pointed at."
At a press conference, St. John came to Hilde’s defense, saying he had mere seconds to act to resolve a dangerous situation.
"Before he could issue any challenges or orders, the subject pointed a gun directly at him," St. John said.
The Billings Police Department’s policy manual states: Officers shall activate video and audio equipment - including body cameras - to record all investigative and enforcement contacts with citizens. But that there are two exceptions, including: If officer or citizen safety would be jeopardized by activating.
"Frankly, him 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 cam policy has been in place since July 2021 when the department achieved full implementation among its patrol units. In the final six months of 2021, five Billings police officers received corrective action for not having WatchGuard activated 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 unit was also one of the first to receive body cams, which means his older model likely did not have a pre-record function that captures between 30-60 seconds before the button is activated.
St. John did say this incident will cause the department to re-evaluate.
"It's something we’ll look at in policy, whether it's if you get dispatched on a call, no matter what it is, turn it on," he said. "The problem we run into there is storage."
St. John said they have already run into digital storage issues, and that video automatically deletes within 90 days.
The department's policy is similar to most major cities in Montana with body cameras. Missoula’s includes a catch-all statement: Any activity that a reasonable officer would know would be important to record.