Body cameras on police officers? In Burnsville, it's old news

Gary Schiff, Taser Axon
Minneapolis City Councilmember Gary Schiff wears an Axon camera and videorecorder made by Taser International for police use. The camera can be clipped to a pair of glasses or an officer's lapel. Schiff is holding up the battery pack for the unit in his left hand on Thurs. Oct. 17, 2013 at City Hall in Minneapolis. The city is considering a pilot program for the cameras worn by police officers.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

While Minneapolis city officials weigh whether or not to equip police officers with small wearable cameras, many communities have already taken that step.

Since 2010, the Burnsville Police Department has provided some officers with cameras, according to Chief Eric Gieseke. He said the department realized it could improve on the cameras mounted in squad cars.

"We recognized the need to give the officers a tool so they could record the events that didn't happen directly in front of the squad car," Gieseke said.

Burnsville started out by giving just five officers cameras. Now 27 officers, about one-third of Burnsville's patrol officers, wear the equipment.

"They're used out in the field to record what officers are doing and their day-to-day contacts with citizens and during arrest situations," Gieseke said.

Gieseke said officers started to realize the benefit of having the cameras immediately. The footage can be used to train officers or even to back up court testimony. He said it also helps to build trust between law enforcement officers and the community.

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At the end of each shift, officers upload body camera footage to a cloud-based storage system. Officers don't have the ability to edit or delete data.

Three Minneapolis City Council members have proposed a $25,000 pilot program that would outfit 25 officers there with cameras. But a spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department has said it is not yet ready to move forward with the trial. The council is expected to consider the program in the coming weeks.

Gieseke said he's not in a position to tell other law enforcement agencies what to do, but he said cameras are worth looking into.

"Make sure you study its pros and cons," Gieseke said. "Slow and deliberate would be my advice to any law enforcement agency."