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St. Cloud, Minn., Approves Funds for Police Body Cameras

The St. Cloud, Minn., City Council unanimously approved a 2021 budget on Monday that includes new funding for body cameras, as well as for related data storage capacity needed to deploy the tech.

by Jenny Berg, St. Cloud Times / December 8, 2020

(TNS) — St. Cloud, Minn., City Council unanimously approved Monday a 2021 budget that includes new funding for body cameras.

"We've been wanting to do this for a long time but it was always extremely cost prohibitive," Mayor  Dave Kleis  said Monday.

But in the past few years, the prices for body cameras and related data storage have come down and other government agencies — including Sauk Rapids and Waite Park police departments and Benton and Stearns counties — have worked through some of the early storage and data privacy issues through trial and error, Kleis said.

"It's the right time to do it," he said.

The approved $75.8 million governmental funds budget is a decrease of about 2.2% from last year's budget. The reductions come from supplies, part-time and full-time positions, and salaries that will remain flat.

In March, Kleis implemented a spending and hiring freeze as a way to mitigate an anticipated $10 million shortfall to this year's budget.

The preliminary budget passed in September was for $75.6 million and was based on the city's projections of incoming taxes and local government aid. But the city received about $300,000 more local government aid than anticipated, Kleis said.

Most of the $300,000 will go towards purchasing the body cameras, filling a community service officer position to help with the implementation and maintenance of the cameras and data storage, and to fill a building inspections position that was previously affected by the hiring freeze. Some of that will also go to the city's reserves.

Property tax levy captures growth so taxes won't go up if property value doesn't

The approved property tax levy is the same as the preliminary levy approved in September — $29.3 million, an increase of about 5% over this year's levy. The increase captures the growth in the tax base over the previous year, so if a resident's property value has not changed, their city taxes will not change, Kleis said.

Although the council approved the budget with plans to purchase body cameras, the city will not purchase the body camera system until after a Dec. 21 public hearing on the city's body camera policy. The city is also holding a Dec. 21 public hearing on its drone policy, which is mandated due to a new state law.

If approved, the city will enter into a five-year contract with Axon to purchase body worn cameras; the contract also replaces the city's current contract with Axon for stun guns and fleet video recording systems. The contract also includes unlimited data storage via Axon's storage system.

The total cost of the five-year contract is estimated at $1.5 million. The first year of the contract is slated to cost $299,000, but because the contract includes renegotiated costs for the existing stun gun and recording services, the increase is only slated to be about $163,000 in the first year.

St. Cloud's body camera system to be implemented in early 2021

St. Cloud Police Chief  Blair Anderson  said Monday the body camera system will likely be implemented sometime early next year.

"For a project of this magnitude, it's not as simple as just putting body cameras on everybody and turning them on," he said.

Anderson said city and police leaders wanted to be diligent with implementing body cameras to ensure the city would be prepared with a proper body camera policy and data storage.

"We knew that one day this was going to become part of our proverbial tool belt. We wanted to be a little more methodical," he said.

Anderson said he thinks the body cameras will help officers feel more comfortable when dealing with the public because the footage allows the department to more efficiently resolve any issues such as complaints from residents.

"The only people who worry about body cameras are the people who aren't doing things the way they should be done — and that's not us. I have no trepidation about that aspect of it," Anderson said.

(c)2020 the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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