Hennepin County sheriff's deputies may soon start wearing body cameras. On Tuesday, a county board committee approved a resolution that authorized a $5 million agreement with a bodycam and Taser manufacturer Axon.
If approved by the board next week, the program will roll out in two phases: First, the sheriff's office will start equipping 148 deputies with cameras. Those are the deputies who work in public, such as those on street patrol or water patrol. Then another 302 cameras will be issued in 2021. That will include deputies who work in more controlled environments, such as the courts and in the adult jail. The contract also includes a number of Tasers.
During a recent discussion on the body camera proposal, Maj. Jeff Storms told board members that they'll need to seek court approval for the second phase because there are tight restrictions on the use of cameras or recording devices in courtrooms.
And when it comes to the jail, there's another issue. The body camera recordings captured by sheriff's deputies who are licensed peace officers are regulated by a different state law than the data captured by jail staff, who are technically corrections employees. Jails are not public spaces. So jail officials can't be as transparent with video as police departments can be.
Storms said the sheriff's office is working with the county attorney's office on writing a policy that complies with the law. But it's not clear when that will be completed. They have until 2021 when that phase of the program is set to start.
In Minnesota, Dakota and Washington counties already equip their jail deputies with cameras. In Washington County, the jail staffers are required to activate them whenever they have a potential use of force with an inmate or when they respond to a possible medical emergency, according to jail commander Roger Heinan.
Ramsey County is also in the process of equipping its deputies with cameras. They expect jail deputies to have the cameras by the end of the year.
In 2017, former Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek proposed a similar body camera pilot program, which would have included about 35 deputies. But board members expressed some concerns about the implementation at the time, and the program fizzled mainly due to budgetary constraints, said Maj. Jeff Storms.