Department would be final hold out in county

Eagan is the only police department in Dakota County who hasn’t committed to getting body-worn cameras.

At least not yet.

The Eagan Police Department has officially asked the city for funds to purchase body-worn cameras as part of the 2020 budget.

Members of the Eagan City Council and Eagan Police Department discussed the possibility during a work session Tuesday.

Police Chief Roger New has said the cameras would help limit liability, help with investigations, and help protect staff from false allegations.

“It’s a piece of technology to make us better at what we do,” New said. “More importantly I want to protect my staff and the city for that matter. If it can save us a lawsuit or exonerate an officer, I want to be able to have that. It can promote transparency as well.”

The devices would be capable of recording both video and audio of officers’ activities.

New said he went through a relatively recent transition in his opinion of the devices. He said he was indifferent about body-worn cameras at first, but then New saw a video of an officer-involved shooting in October 2018 in Hastings, which helped tell the complete story.

New said he was told by a county attorney that without the body camera evidence, they may have charged the officer due to witnesses’ accounts.

“My opinion shifted, I would say,” New said.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom found in December 2018 the officer was justified in the shooting. New showed the Eagan City Council an edited version of the footage during the meeting.

New also noted that the Eagan department has had in-squad cameras since 2012, which has helped exonerate officers. He also showed a video of a driver backing into a squad car during a traffic stop and said the driver could have claimed the officer hit them instead.

But the cameras cost money.

New said they estimate the initial purchase would be about $75,000 the first year and they would need to pay about $32,000 per year for data storage, maintenance and warranty costs.

“These are preliminary numbers,” New said.

Each individual officer would have their own camera and the department could purchase approximately 70 cameras, but New said that number might go down because those who work primarily in the office wouldn’t need one.

By law the city would need to provide residents time to comment and New said that could happen during City Council workshop in August.

New said before any decision is made, the department still needs to do some outreach to the community.

New said he’s looking at open houses, Rotary meetings, Coffee with a Cop, and National Night Out as opportunities to connect with the community.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to get out and explain the why we want to do this,” New said.

The department has been looking into the possibility of adding body-worn cameras since 2014.

“At that time we had some concerns regarding the legislation regarding the data, so we held that off,” New said.

At the time, anyone could request to see basically “the worst day of your life in your home,” New said.

“Now you have to be the subject of the data to acquire that data,” New said.

The department is working on putting together its own body-worn camera policy. They’re taking into account the data classification, access to data, securing safeguards and data retention.

Mayor Mike Maguire asked when the cameras would be turned on.

“As I sit here, it would be my thought we would turn them on anytime we have an interaction with a community member,” New said.

The department is looking into outsourcing the data retention to a cloud system, and the department would have unlimited data storage.

This is not exactly in unfamiliar territory anymore.

Eagan would be the last agency in the county to commit to buying the cameras. Burnsville has had them since 2010 and Farmington added them in 2014.

“We allowed them to be the test cities with body-worn cameras,” New said. “We can look at what worked and what did not work.”

In the past two years, Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul, Apple Valley and Hastings have all adopted cameras.

Plans for Lakeville, Dakota County and West St. Paul are pending.

“I think all the cities were of the same mindset,” New said. “The data practice rules seem to make more sense now.”

The Eagan City Council will review the policy and products before a decision is made.

New said they probably won’t select a vendor until later this year and they won’t be implemented until early 2020 at best.

Eagan City Council members expressed confidence in the department and felt this was a good time to go forward with purchasing the cameras.

“If we don’t act on this, God forbid something happens, we’re in a world of hurt and it turns into public pressure,” Maguire said.

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