Little Falls Police Chief Greg Schirmers gave a presentation to the City Council, Monday, regarding a proposed plan to contract for body worn camera, motor vehicle recording (MVR) and taser services.
The Police Department’s existing MVR system needs to be replaced, he said. The Morrison County Sheriff’s Office’s service is also set to expire in October 2022. As such, Schirmers has been working with Sheriff Shawn Larsen, other local law enforcement officials and county department heads for approximately two years to decide the best course of action for officers throughout the county.
Schirmers told the Council he plans to make a formal request to enter into a 10-year contract with Axon Enterprise. Sheriff Larsen has made a similar request to the Morrison County Board of Commissioners.
A 10-year contract with Axon that includes taser services will cost $551,465 — or about $56,359.26 per year throughout the life of the contract.
“I understand the gravity of the request, as well,” Schirmers said. “I understand this is a lot of money. It has long-term impact. If we do this, this is five or 10 years of commitment with this product. It not only affects the Police Department, it affects other departments, too, because it’s a lot of money.”
The committee that came together to explore the new technology looked at and reviewed multiple vendors and the technology they had to offer.
One of the vendors, WatchGuard, provided a quote of $316,100 for a 10-year contract, but it would not include all of the same equipment and technology as Axon. Its system would not have integrated tasers and would also require extra costs for the installation of MVRs. Getac did not give a quote for 10 years, but said it would charge the city $174,949 for five years. It also was missing much of the technology the department is looking to implement.
“While reviewing the solutions, our priorities were to ensure that the city and county business, security and technology requirements were met,” Schirmers said. “It also was a priority to collaborate with participating local agencies throughout the county. This ensures that we provide all of Morrison County with the best possible service.”
The key goals the committee came up with in going to a new system were to provide transparency, accountability, public confidence, evidentiary value and community engagement. The recent rise in violent crime throughout the state has caused law enforcement agencies to consider the implementation of body worn cameras, along with upgrading their MVRs.
“Our officers, along with many community members, believe body worn cameras will both benefit the community and officers during citizen interactions,” Schirmers said. “I’ve also received letters of support from the Morrison County Attorney, Morrison County Director of Public Health and other officials in the county.”
Schirmers said, with the large investment the city would be making into the technology, it will also see a return. The body worn cameras will help capture more video evidence to help secure faster criminal investigations. It will also greatly reduce the amount of time officers are spending on administrative tasks such as redaction, transcription and preparing evidence for the County Attorney’s Office.
The Axon system includes automated technology for all of those tasks.
Schirmers also said citizen complaints or concerns about officer conduct will be able to be investigated and resolved in an expedited manner.
“We will also have a greater opportunity to recognize our successes and learn from our failures,” he said. “We can train and use that data for training.”
The Axon system allows the body worn cameras to integrate seamlessly with not only the MVR, but also an officer’s taser, service weapon and those of other officers in the area who are also on the system. The body worn camera will also serve as the microphone for the MVR, so officers will not have to wear both pieces of equipment.
As required by state law, a public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 6, to receive public input on the new system. Information about the program and a short survey are available on the Little Falls city website.
The price of purchase would include body worn cameras and tasers for all officers, as well as nine MVRs. The body worn cameras would be replaced with the newest technology, at no extra cost, every two and a half years, while the MVRs and tasers would be upgraded every five years. Schirmers said the current MVRs being used by the department are eight or nine years old.
“If we stay with what we currently have, that server has to be replaced,” he said. “It won’t serve us any longer. I’ve been trying to draw this technology out as long as we can just to get to the next step. Working with IT services, it would be about $50,000 to buy a new server and a backup device and get that all installed. That would be up-front costs if we did on-site storage.”
Storage on the new system would be cloud-based and has been vetted by several law enforcement agencies for security.
Schirmers said the department currently has 11 tasers in use, nine of which are out of warranty. The warranty on the other two is set to expire soon.
“Tasers, if they’re out of warranty, they’re not covered by the manufacturer’s liability insurance, so we would like to update those and keep those devices,” Schirmers said. “Axon can integrate the taser. All the data from the taser is automatically uploaded to the camera system.”
Acknowledging that the cost for Axon was much higher than the other products, Schirmers said he wanted to “dig into the weeds” as to why it is more expensive. It also includes the use of evidence.com, an evidence management system.
In the system, it can combine the data from all equipment on scene to create one evidence package, which can then be emailed to the County Attorney’s Office as a link. If the video needs to be released to the public, the County Attorney’s Office can upload it and send it back to the LFPD to be redacted for widespread consumption.
The system also would allow officers to send a link to civilians who witnessed an incident and might have evidence on their smartphone. The person can then upload their video or photos and it is also included in the evidence package as a whole.
“It makes it a lot easier to collect that data,” Schirmers said. “Creating a chain of evidence is difficult sometimes with that stuff, so it creates a better evidence package for the County Attorney’s Office.”
The Axon equipment also includes GPS technology, which allows officers to track where other law enforcement officials are in the area if they are trying to set up a perimeter. Also, if an officer is involved in a foot pursuit in a remote location, they can be easily located by fellow officers.
Schirmers said, if the Council approved the contract, it would likely be fully implemented by September or October 2022. There is also a great deal of training that would need to happen between purchase and implementation.
Along with the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office, both the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) are going to Axon, Schirmers said.
“You said the State Patrol’s going with this system and Morrison County, so if you want to be compatible with them and be in on everything, it’s probably — even though it does cost a lot more — but I think the days we live in, maybe it’s advisable we went with the best,” said Council Member Frank Gosiak. “If the county and the state are doing it, I see no sense why we shouldn’t.”
He also asked if it would be cheaper to go with a five-year contract, just to make sure it works the way it’s supposed to, and then renew for a second five-year period. Schirmers said the current quote from Axon doesn’t have inflation costs built in, so if the city were to go that route, it would likely pay a higher price for the second five years.
Schirmers added that, though there is not a mandate for body worn cameras in Minnesota right now, he believes one is coming. He told the Council he wants to be ahead of it because of the time it takes for implementation.
“I agree with Frank,” said Mayor Greg Zylka. “I think I’d like to see us move forward with this. I think it’s important to our community. I think it’s vastly important to our staff, and it’s the direction that our world is going.”