Close-up of police body camera

Close-up of police body camera

Officials with Minnetrista Police made public earlier this month the department’s draft policy for the body-worn cameras that its officers will begin wearing later this year.

Minnetrista first authorized the department’s purchase of six in-car systems and seven body-worn cameras (BWCs) when council approved the city’s final budget in December. A subsequent vote in January signaled continued support for the equipment by the new council, which saw two of its members turn over after last year’s election.

Much of Minnetrista PD’s draft policy follows language that was laid out by state lawmakers in 2016, particularly with regard to directives that stipulate how long recordings should be stored and who may access that data.

But state law doesn’t decide every detail, like when the cameras should be used or if an officer may review the footage prior to making a report—these details get handled at the department level.

Under the draft policy, Minnetrista’s uniformed officers would be asked to “activate their BWCs when anticipating that they will be involved in, become involved in, or witness other officers of this department involved in a pursuit, an enforcement or investigatory stop of a motorist or pedestrian, search, seizure, arrest, use of force, adversarial contact, and during other activities likely to yield information having evidentiary value.” They would not be required to activate them in instances during which it would be “unsafe, impossible, or impractical to do so.”

Officers also would not be required to disclose during an encounter whether the camera is activated, although they can opt to share that information if they believe it could help in de-escalation.

Minnetrista PD’s policy would give officers wide latitude in using the cameras, but it also includes a clause to balance this license with privacy concerns. According the draft policy, officers would “have the discretion to record or not record general citizen contacts,” but they “should remain sensitive to the dignity of all individuals being recorded and exercise sound discretion to respect privacy by discontinuing recording whenever it reasonably appears that such privacy outweighs any law enforcement interest in recording.”

All recordings would be kept for a minimum of 90 days, as required by state law, and with extended record retention periods for critical events like the use of deadly force or the discharge of a firearm by an officer.

In storing data, officers would be required to flag those files that might be subject to laws limiting disclosure, including those files concerned with juveniles, vulnerable adults and victims of sex crimes.

Body cam footage in cases of a discharged firearm or use of force that results in “substantial bodily harm” would be considered public.

Under the policy, Minnetrista officers would also be permitted to review the camera footage prior to making an incident report except

in cases of an officer-involved shooting or other “critical incident.” In these cases, “after the initial statement, but before the conclusion of the interview, the officer will be given the opportunity to review their BWC recording with the investigator if they so choose.”

As part of the legislative changes made in 2016, all public safety departments in Minnesota that employ body cameras are required to have a policy in place for their use and to hold a public comment period before adopting the policy, although an exact amount of time for this comment period is not defined by the statute.

The policy will be up for continued, and likely final, public comment at Minnetrista council’s next regular session, April 19. Residents who wish to participate can email comments ahead of time or partake in council’s Zoom session that night. A full copy of the draft policy is available on Minnetrista’s website at https://www.cityofminnetrista.com/police.

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