Mike Wilson and Greg Blaine

Morrison County Board of Commissioners Chair Mike Wilson, right, discusses the implementation of body worn cameras for the Morrison County Sheriff's Office. Listening on is Commissioner Greg Blaine.

All law enforcement in Morrison County will be equipped with body worn cameras within the next year, after a decision by the Board of Commissioners, Tuesday.

The Board voted unanimously to approve a request from Sheriff Shawn Larsen to enter into a 10-year contract with Axon Enterprise Inc. for body worn cameras and mobile video recorder services. The agreement will include service for the Sheriff’s Office, as well as the police departments in Motley, Pierz and Royalton. Monday, the Little Falls City Council approved a request to equip the Little Falls Police Department with the same service.

“It’s going to align all the communities that we serve with not only confidence, transparency, but also accountability, not only of our Morrison County law enforcement officers, but as well as the citizens that we serve,” Larsen said.

The contract will include body worn cameras and squad cameras for the Sheriff’s Office, Pierz Police Department, Motley Police Department and Royalton Police Department. The total cost, over the course of 10 years, is $897,535.41, to be paid in annual installments of $89,753.54.

“Now, the big question is, how do we fund this project?” Larsen asked, rhetorically.

The first three years will be funded primarily through $259,260.62 in revenue from the jail reserve program. This is money that comes into the county through housing out-of-county inmates. Larsen said he had previously earmarked that funding, knowing that at some point it would be necessary to implement a body worn camera project.

Larsen said a $10,000 grant from Sourcewell will also be applied to the first year. Through those funding sources, the county will pay for each of the three cities’ portion of the contract for the first three years — the full $89,753.54.

“They’ve been at the table with us, as well,” Larsen said. “They’ve been supporting this, we’ve been supporting them. So, again, this has just been a community effort. This will allow all of the police departments time to budget and get Morrison County law enforcement locked in on the 2021 prices.”

In years four through 10 of the contract, Morrison County and each of the three separate police departments will pay for their portion of the program.

Morrison County will pay $72,633.43 annually — $508,434.02 over seven years — for 28 body worn cameras and mobile video recorders for 23 squad cars. Pierz will pay an annual cost of $5,682.54 — $39,777.78 total — for two body cams and two squad cameras. Motley will pay $4,298.15 annually — $30,087.05 total — for two body cameras and one squad. Royalton will pay $7,139.42 per year — $49,975.94 over seven years — for three body worn cameras and two fleet setups.

Larsen told the Board that by signing a contract by the end of December, they would be locked into those prices. Morrison County IT Director Amy Middendorf said the package includes all licensing, software, support and warranties on all items. The body cameras will also be replaced every two and a half years with the latest technology, and mobile video recorders will be updated every five years. The hardware would also be replaced under warranty if it were damaged in the field.

In years four through 10 of the contract, the county and each individual city will likely have to levy for its portion of the payment. Larsen did note, however, that he will continue to keep looking for other funding opportunities to help off-set those costs.

“We just want to stress that this contract’s all about community partnership; making sure that all of our agencies are on the same page, making sure that we’re utilizing the same product,” Larsen said. “Every law enforcement agency in Morrison County, right now, we back each other up on calls. By doing that, we want to make sure we’re on the same page moving forward. We believe that having the same system moving forward is imperative, as well.”

Commissioners Mike LeMieur and Mike Wilson recommended to Larsen that he start budgeting levy dollars — in smaller amounts — during the 2023 and 2024 budgets. That would help prevent a big hike on the Sheriff’s Office portion of the levy in year four of the contract — 2025.

Larsen added that there is some money left over from his office’s public safety annex project. It is possible, he said, he will be able to use some of that money in the future to help off-set the levy.

“I just want to say that I’m fully supportive of this for our police officers,” LeMieur said. “Not only for their safety, but for the county’s holding the criminal accountable instead of taking the criminal’s word over law enforcement’s word. I think, in the long run, it’s going to help the county, also.”

Throughout the process, those involved in the planning process have stressed that it is likely the state legislature, at some point, will mandate law enforcement officers use body cameras. Commissioner Jeffrey Jelinski asked, if there is a mandate and the state offers funds to help departments implement a body worn camera program, if there is any way Morrison County could be eligible even though the program is already underway.

Larsen said, if that came to be, he would definitely be working with local legislators to see if the county could apply some of that funding toward its program.

“Part of my fear of the unknown is, we don’t have a clue what’s going to happen next year, or the next year, or the next year, as far as our state legislature is concerned,” Jelinski said. “For all we know, our state legislature next year, this year, I don’t have a clue, is going to say, ‘Yeah. Every law enforcement officer in the state of Minnesota needs to have a body cam. Here’s this funding.’”

Larsen added that the Minnesota State Patrol is in the testing stages of implementing the Axon system. Once the local departments get their system up and running — likely in September or October 2022 — it will also be able to integrate with the State Patrol if they are responding to the same call.

“If we didn’t do this, we would be replacing all of our car (cameras) and stuff anyway, would we not?” Wilson asked. “That’s money that we would be saving off of this, because that would be done, anyway.”

Larsen said that was correct. The county’s current mobile video recorder service expires in October 2022, so it would need new equipment for the squad cars even if it the Board had not approved the Axon system.

Commissioner Greg Blaine asked where the technology will be in terms of its lifespan when the contract expires in 10 years. He asked if the equipment would still be usable beyond the life of the contract, or if the county would need to enter a new contract to get updated hardware as soon as those 10 years were up.

He asked because it is often the case with technology that, once a contract is up with a vendor, the equipment needs to be replaced and a new contract has to be signed in order to maintain service.

Larsen said, in his experience with law enforcement, though there are advancements in technology, the equipment they’ve bought in the past has continued to be sustainable. For example, he said the Sheriff’s Office has been using the same record management system since 2010. The current squad car cameras have been in use since about 2012.

When the equipment reaches its end of life, he said he just has to remain cognizant of what is available.

“With the contract, we are entitled to the newest technology,” Middendorf added. “At year 10, we get squad car cameras, whatever the latest and greatest version of that camera is. If we renew, great. We’ll continue the same kind of relationship. If we don’t renew, we’ll have the latest and greatest at that time, with no support and then you’ll just have to pay as you go.”

The Board said, prior to the vote, they were all in favor of implementation. They thanked Larsen and his team for their work to find what would be best for law enforcement in the county.

“I want to thank you for helping the cities out, too, to get on board with this,” Wilson said. “I appreciate that.”

Load comments