Mpls. police to extend use of body cameras, want public input

Police body camera
Minneapolis Police Lt. Greg Reinhardt held up two body cameras Friday, Nov. 7, 2014, at Minneapolis City Hall.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2014

Updated: 11:35 a.m. | Posted: 6:10 a.m.

The Minneapolis Police Department has finished testing body cameras and expects to start equipping more than 600 officers with them early next year. However, police leaders still have some big decisions to make: coming up with a policy detailing how officers will use the cameras.

For six months, 36 Minneapolis officers tried wearing different versions of body cameras while patrolling city streets. Police Chief Janee Harteau gave a brief assessment to the city's Police Conduct Oversight Commission Tuesday night.

She said that at first it took a while for officers to get used to the cameras.

"We all have routines in our life and how we do our daily business," she said. "So when you add another piece of equipment, it took a little bit of time to now add something into your repertoire but it was fully embraced by those that were participating in the pilot."

Deputy Chief Travis Glampe said that unfamiliarity led to a few problems — sometimes officers didn't turn the cameras on soon enough or turned them off too early.

"But I'm glad we saw it in the pilot project because now we can take that back to the officers and learn from the deficiencies, if you will, and so we're going to be much better off training, as opposed to jumping into training and then learning these things," he said.

The next step is to create a policy that would tell officers when to activate the cameras and for how long, as well as guidelines for how long to store and when to publicly release video. A bill that would have placed strict limits on access to police camera footage stalled at the Minnesota Capitol last session.

Harteau said she doesn't think the city needs help from state lawmakers to help it craft its camera policy.

"But I would like some consistency. And I think any department in the state of Minnesota should be operating on a similar fashion," she said.

Harteau is looking for input from city residents on how police should use the cameras or if they think the department should use them at all. The Police Conduct Oversight Commission, a civilian group that advises the department on policy, scheduled the first of three public input meetings for later this month.

Dave Bicking, a former member of the city's first civilian review authority, has criticized Minneapolis police leaders for not disciplining officers who use excessive force. Bicking said body cameras help the public only when they're used properly.

"We've already seen around the nation a number of cases where cameras were turned off at exactly the wrong moment or malfunctioned," he said. "The policy requiring to keep them on at the right times is important, as is the policy to turn them off."

Bicking said he's also concerned police officers will record people in vulnerable situations. He also believes whatever policy is created for the use of cameras should be strictly enforced and include consequences for officers who violate the rules.

The department also needs to decide what style of body camera to buy. Harteau said officers seemed to favor the cameras they wore on their chests — those cameras provided the best view. She said a different style of camera — Harteau wouldn't say which one — was problematic because it was more likely to be shut off by mistake.

The department is applying for a federal grant that could provide up to $600,000 to pay for cameras and or training. The city of St. Paul is also applying for the same grant.

The Minneapolis City Council's public safety committee is expected to approve the department's request to apply for the grant when it meets later Wednesday.

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