St. Paul considers body cameras for cops

A Los Angeles Police officer wearing a body camera
A body camera on a Los Angeles Police officer.
Damian Dovarganes/ASSOCIATED PRESS

As Minneapolis police prepare to roll out a pilot body camera program next week, across the river in St. Paul, city leaders now say they may adopt the technology as well.

"We're always looking at new technology," St. Paul Police Spokesman Sgt. Paul Paulos said."We are looking at getting them at some point in time in the future. And we're looking what infrastructure and what cameras are best right now."

Paulos did not say when a decision would be made.

St. Paul City Councilman Dave Thune said the matter has been brought up before, as far back as eight years ago. Back then he said department officials seemed worried about privacy issues. At the council's budget meeting with police in late August, Thune said the council asked Police Chief Tom Smith to look into adding body cameras.

"We said 'You've got to come back to us with an update," Thune said. "We want to see movement forward on this, we really do."

He thinks the city could save money on settlements for police brutality cases brought forward on flimsy evidence.

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"I've seen cases where clearly the alleged perpetrator was a mess or violent and did all sorts of stuff," Thune said. "This is the kind of thing that could stop lawsuits, but it could also protect the public."

Burnsville Police have been using body cameras since 2010. Duluth added the technology to its police force earlier this year.

Next Friday, 36 police officers in Minneapolis will begin wearing the cameras in the field. Officers will be trying out two types of cameras, and are especially interested in testing how well they fare in winter weather.

The $170,000 pilot program, which was approved by the Minneapolis City Council in September, will run from six to nine months.

The city's mayor expects the cameras to add accountability to a department facing criticism over the way its officers sometimes handle themselves.

"Body cameras have been shown to decrease both use of force and complaints about excessive force," Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement. "When there are questions about an interaction, body cameras provide more transparency."

The addition of body cameras have been supported by several community activists in Minneapolis.

"The hope is that the body camera pilot project will lead to greater transparency and accountability amongst members of the Minneapolis Police Department," said Nekima Levy-Pounds, a civil rights attorney and law professor at the University of St. Thomas. "And also as a way of bridging the wide gulf that exists between the department and members of the public, particularly communities of color."