Body-worn camera policy will guide EP police officers
Eden Prairie police officers could soon be outfitted with body-worn cameras.
They will join a growing list of camera-equipped Minnesota officers, including those in departments serving Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Chaska, Edina, and Minnetonka.
A relatively new addition to the law-enforcement toolkit, body-worn cameras document encounters between police and the public from an officers’ point-of-view.
Nationwide, law enforcement officials echo in news reports the benefits of the video and audio recordings: improved criminal investigations and enhanced police transparency and accountability. In those stories, building public trust is a common theme.
Eden Prairie Police Lt. Christopher Wood concurs, emphasizing how cameras offer transparency in a community while also serving as a vital evidence tool.
“Many interactions are recorded by cell phones or cameras in public and may not be the most complete picture of the entire incident,” Wood said. “Body cameras will provide the officers’ perspective to an incident, being that it is up close, (and) will capture everything that the officer does. It will give the public a better picture of what happened in use-of-force incidents.”
Wood said body-worn cameras have been in the department’s plans for several years. As supervisor of the department’s support division, Wood is responsible for putting the camera program in place. (An additional Q & A with Police Lt. Wood regarding body-worn camera information policy can be found here.)
“(Drafting the body camera policy now) wasn’t necessarily brought on by the George Floyd situation, although it sped it up a bit,” Wood said. Floyd died in May 2020 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was videotaped by onlookers pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
A body-worn camera policy guiding how Eden Prairie officers use the cameras will be presented to the City Council during a public hearing on Tuesday, March 2. The department’s guidelines follow a model policy by the League of Minnesota Cities.
According to the city policy, officers will turn on their cameras when involved in such situations as pursuits, traffic stops, arrests, adversarial contact, and use of force.
The policy states that officers need not activate their cameras when it would be unsafe, impossible, or impractical to do so. Such instances of not recording must be documented.
Officers are given discretion through the policy on when they can turn off their cameras during general citizen contact.
“Say they end up talking to someone in a park,” Wood said. “They don’t necessarily have to have their body camera on for that. If it turns into something that may be adversarial or they need to collect evidence, they would.”
Though the City Council doesn’t typically weigh in on police policies, Wood said it does need to approve the purchase.
A final price tag is still being worked out, Wood said. Plans call for every sworn officer to get a WatchGuard V300 body-worn camera manufactured by Motorola Solutions.
The V300 camera costs $995 each, though accessories and data storage costs will add to that. The department is authorized for 72 sworn officers; currently, there are 67. In anticipation for this project, $175,000 is allocated in the city’s 2022 Capital Improvement Plan. Police want to move the purchase up to this year, though it’s unsure when officers will begin wearing the cameras.
If approved, Wood is unsure exactly when officers will start using the cameras.
“We’ll place the order, but body camera companies are busy right now,” he said, “It will be some time before we get them. Then there will be some training involved before we can roll them out full-time.”
According to Motorola Solutions, the V300 is the “first in the industry to address law enforcement’s need for body-worn cameras that remain operational beyond a 12-hour shift.”
Wood said Eden Prairie officers will wear the cameras somewhere on the front of their vests.
“It depends a little bit on each officer and where they have room for it, but it will be on the front part of their vest or the front part of their uniform so they can get what’s happening in front of them,” he said.
Body-worn cameras should work seamlessly with the city’s long-established in-squad camera systems. Both are made by Motorola.
“If we start recording on the camera in the car, the body camera will automatically start recording,” he said. “They will be linked so that we can capture as much video as we can.”
Eden Prairie waited on buying cameras to see how state lawmakers would legislate data privacy issues on who could see the footage.
Legislation signed into law in 2016 classifies the data captured on cameras as private or nonpublic data. Exceptions include when an officer discharges his or her weapon or an officers’ use of force results in bodily harm.
(For more on body-camera data from the Minnesota Data Practices Office, click here.)
“Before that legislation, all the (body-worn camera) data was classified as public,” Wood said. “(That allowed) anyone to come in and request any video footage from any call that we were on. We didn’t necessarily agree with that.”
Wood used the example of a resident asking to see the footage of a medical call at his neighbor’s house.
According to the state statute, only those involved in the situation can get copies of it. (A person depicted in the footage, though, can request the footage be made public.)
“There’s been a lot in the legislation recently regarding the use of force,” he said. “We were hoping some of that would level out before we purchase body cameras. We didn’t want to go into it and then have to change things. We wanted it to be more steady before we started having them ourselves.”
(Editor’s Note: Story was updated on Feb. 27, 2021 with March 2, 2021 City Council meeting and city allocation of $175,000 to budget to move the purchase to 2021.)