Minneapolis police start using body cameras Friday

A Los Angeles Police officer wearing a body camera
This Jan. 15, 2014 file photo shows a Los Angeles Police officer wearing an on-body camera during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes / AP file

Some Minneapolis police officers will hit the streets Friday wearing body cameras to record interactions with the public. It's part of a pilot program that aims to rollout cameras department-wide by late 2015.

The body camera pilot program will last six to nine months and includes 36 officers from precincts across the city who were shown how to use the cameras earlier this week. The Minneapolis Police Department released a draft of their policies for the program on Wednesday.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said at a City Council committee meeting Wednesday that she's supported some form of the program since she was sworn in as the head of the department in 2012.

"I believe the equipment will provide an added layer of transparency and accountability to the department," Harteau said. "In addition, this technology will protect our officers from false and frivolous claims, saving money in the process."

Harteau said the draft policy was put together by members from many divisions of the MPD, as well as the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, Minneapolis City Attorney, Hennepin County Attorney and Mayor Betsy Hodges' office.

The policy recommends that officers should wear the cameras anytime during their shift when they could anticipate a situation like a traffic stop, arrest or physical confrontation, among others.

It leaves the decision to turn the camera on or off to the officer. If the camera is deactivated before an incident concludes or if the equipment malfunctions, the officer must explain in a written statement.

Council Member Cam Gordon said during the hearing that the policy may create a loophole for officers to avoid turning the camera on.

"Hopefully we'll find in practice that it's activated often and regularly and it's not turned off until an incident is over," Gordon said.

Harteau said the expectation is that officers will keep the cameras on, but that it's not appropriate or safe in every situation. The policy states that body cameras shouldn't be used during SWAT operations.

"It's about discretion, but we'll do a very thorough look as to when those cameras are on and when they're off," Harteau said.

Officers will be testing different cameras to see which works best in Minnesota's climate — one is attached to the lapel or glasses while another is mounted on an officer's chest. Deputy Chief Travis Glampe said at the meeting that there is some signal to show the camera is on, but declined to say what it is.

Officers will be expected to upload and classify any videos at the end of their shifts. Footage obtained through the cameras will be governed by Minnesota's open data law, according to the city.

Harteau said it's a fluid policy, which will be updated as the public, officers and others offer input. The City Council's Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee will receive updates on the evolution of the policy in the coming months.

The chief and mayor are planning a media availability on Friday to demonstrate the technology.

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