Digital Communities

Minnesota Town Asks Public to Weigh In on Police Body Cams

The Worthington, Minn., Police Department will soon begin an officer-worn body camera program, but it’s likely at least a couple months away from going live. In the meantime, the department is asking for public comment.

by Alyssa Sobotka, The Daily Globe / November 7, 2018
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(TNS) — The Worthington, Minn., Police Department will soon begin an officer body-worn camera program, but it’s likely at least a couple months away from going live.

Last week, the department posted its first call for public comment to its social media pages, which Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel said is the first step of program implementation as dictated by Minnesota state law.

“We’re clearly just at the beginning stages of this,” Appel said last week.

Appel said the hope is to supply each of the department’s officers with their own body camera to be activated during traffic stops, investigative work or during contacts that become adversarial. The department currently has 23 officers, but is authorized for (and in the hiring process) for 24.

According to Appel, beyond testing a camera here or there, this will be the first time the department will wear body cameras. It’s a program he said he’s envisioned implementing since becoming police chief in 2014.

“It’s an expensive and complicated program that we didn’t want to just jump into, especially since we had squad cameras,” Appel said of the four-year time span between when he talked about the program and when action was initiated. Other questions Appel felt needed to be addressed and answered before the WPD adopted the program included technology and the law surrounding public data classifications.

While the department will continue to use its dash cams, Appel noted that they’re limited to what’s directly in front of and the back seat of the officer’s squad car. The body cams, which are equipped with video and recording capabilities and transferred and stored similarly to the dash cam footage, will offer a better view.

That footage, Appel said, will be a resource and tool for both officers and the public.

First and foremost, he said, the body cams will enhance officer safety. The camera will also be a tool for officers to better review and document interactions into their report, which is referred to the Nobles County Attorney’s Office for a charging decision.

“It’s a means to capture convincing proof of criminal activity,” he added.

He also thinks it will also enhance public trust by preserving what he called a factual representation of officer/citizen interaction.

“It will protect our officers against false claims,” Appel added. “With that, it will assist in the defense against civil actions against our department and our city.”

He also expects current officers will use the footage for self-critique, as well as potentially in the field training process for new officers.

The cameras are budgeted to be purchased from the public safety budget on a rotating schedule for replacement every few years. Appel said the department is also seeking grant funding to supplement the budgeted item.

While Appel said some of the questions surrounding body worn cameras have been answered, he suspects there will be a learning curve.

“Public data requests are going to be a challenge,” he said of sifting through what is and isn’t public.

He suspects one of the biggest challenges, though, will be related to data storage. The department’s ability to store data is much like a cellphone — the more storage capacity a device has, the more expensive it is. That’s why it won’t be realistic to expect officers to have it running their entire shift.

“With working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the cost to store that much data would be very difficult to achieve,” he said.

Appel said the department is excited to advance the program, but a series of protocols have yet to be accomplished before full implementation.

The next steps necessary also involve public engagement. A public comment opportunity is tentatively scheduled during a yet-to-be-determined date in December as part of a Worthington City Council meeting. From there, the public will have another opportunity to weigh in as the department shapes its policies for the program.

Once the policy is drafted, it will be posted on the department’s website. Once begun, a biennial audit will begin to ensure the department is abiding by all state laws associated with body-worn cameras, Appel said.

©2018 The Daily Globe (Worthington, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.