Policy has gone through internal, community review

Fulfilling a request from the City Council, the Lakeville police department is less than a month away from having every member of its uniformed staff working on the street equipped with a body camera.

Deputy police chief John Kornmann, who spearheaded the program, said 73 cameras will be in place by the third week of November with a goal of “enhancing the public trust” in the police department while protecting both the public and the department.

The $77,400 annual cost of the program will be partially offset for the first three years by a $106,500 federal grant, of which Lakeville was one of 15 nationwide recipients, according to Kornmann. After three years the cost will be built into the department’s annual budget and funded through taxation.

“We’ve been working on this with the City Council for the last several years,” Kornmann said. “The City Council believes this is something that it wants its police department to be equipped with, and this is the final chapter in making that happen.”

State law requires that a public hearing be held before the program can be put into place. Lakeville had a public open house in June and a public hearing in July.

Kornmann estimates that over half of the police departments in Dakota County already are using body cameras, with the majority of the others planning to add them within the next year.

“We’ve spent considerable time communicating with agencies both local and nationally that have them to find out what worked, what didn’t, and what policies they are using,” Kornmann said. “They have generally been well-received by staff and the communities.”

The departments policy for the use of body cameras is available on the city’s website. Kornmann said that there will be a learning curve on the street as well as overall policy once the program is in place.

Everything that is filmed with a body camera is considered private data. In most cases the video can’t be released without the consent of the person appearing in the video. There are exceptions, Kornmann pointed out, such as the need to quell public rumor.

“We want to put people’s minds at ease in terms of what is being recorded,” Kornmann said. “That would be where we would be fine-tuning our policy.”

Staff will receive three training sessions in advance to the launch date related to policy and operation of the camera. The cameras are equipped to turn on only after the record button is hit twice, which is designed to prevent them from going on by accident.

“It sounds simple, but under stress you need to establish that muscle memory to activate the camera,” Kornmann said. “That is part of the training.”

There will be times when the situation doesn’t provide the opportunity for the officer to turn the camera on, but in general terms, failure to activate the camera could lead to disciplinary action.

Officers are not being asked to first inform members of the public before turning on the camera. “We don’t want that to get in the way of communicating with the public,” Kornmann said. “But part of the training will be that there will be times when informing people that they are being recorded can help change their behavior.

“There is documentation that shows that when some people know they are being recorded they behave better.”

Videos have to be kept for a minimum of 90 days per state law. Some can become part of the permanent record and never get erased, such as when a violent act is involved.

Dean Spiros can be reached at lakeville.thisweek@ecm-inc.com.

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