A new tool is being added to the toolbox of the Milaca Police Department.
The department is beginning the use of body-worn cameras that will record interactions between the public and officers. Deployment of the cameras was expected to begin as early as late June or early July, according to Chief Quinn Rasmusson.
“From an administrative standpoint and from what I know from the officers is they are excited to have these out there and be able to use the tool in many different aspects,” Rasmussen said.
Implementing the body-worn cameras has been a goal of the department for awhile. Now the city was able to purchase four body-worn cameras as well as three squad-car-mounted cameras.
Along with the new cameras comes a new policy governing how they will be deployed and what happens to the data once it has been collected. While the department also purchased new squad car cameras, the policy only applies to body-worn cameras, because they are more likely to encounter situations that raise concerns about privacy, according to Rasmussen.
That policy is largely based on a model policy the League of Minnesota Cities provides on its website. The Milaca policy has some minor changes, such as specific data labels, but otherwise follows the model closely.
Use of body-worn cameras
Officers will be required to activate their cameras when responding to all calls for service and during all law enforcement-related encounters such as pursuits, arrests and any contact between them and the public that becomes adversarial, according to the policy. However, officers are not expected to activate the camera if it would interfere with protecting themselves.
“If there’s a situation where it would be unsafe to do so, something happens so quick that it would be unsafe to take the time to activate the body camera, they do have obviously some protection in that,” Rasmussen said.
Once activated, an officer must continue recording with the camera until the incident is concluded, or it becomes clear to the officer that further recording will not capture information that is of evidentiary value, according to the policy. The policy defines evidentiary value as information that may be useful in a criminal prosecution, investigation, related civil or administrative proceedings or in considering an allegation against a law enforcement agency or officer.
To activate the cameras, officers press a large button on the front of the device, which triggers a beep and turns on a red light on the top and front of the camera. There is a covert mode on the camera, which allows the lights and sound to be shut off. It takes two clicks of the same button to turn off the camera.
“Obviously if you’re approaching a house at night and you don’t want a big red light sticking out for someone who may be in there (to see), it offers that opportunity,” Rasmussen said.
An officer also may not intentionally block the camera’s audio or visual recording in a way that would prevent it from capturing evidence. The policy is worded to allow an officer to block the camera if it would capture irrelevant, private information such as a computer screen displaying private or confidential data, according to the LMC model.
There is a mute button on the side of the camera, which allows an officer to mute the audio of a camera only as long as the button is held down.
“While on a call they could be having a private conversation with someone else that doesn’t necessarily pertain to the call,” Rasmussen said. “They’ve got some downtime, they’re waiting for a tow, something like that where they’re just talking to another officer and they’re just choosing not to have that audio that has nothing to do with the evidentiary piece of that call picked up within the recording.”
Recording in hospitals, mental health facilities, juvenile detention centers and jails is discouraged, except when an officer expects to witness criminal activity. They are encouraged to use the camera when transporting individuals to these facilities, according to the policy.
Officers also have no duty to inform a resident that the body camera is active, to avoid distracting officers from their duties and debates over the camera during potential tense encounters, according to the LMC model.
What to do with the data
Once a camera is shut off, an officer is responsible for labeling it under one of nine categories, which include warnings, citations, calls for service, and testing or accidental activation, according to the policy.
The policy requires the department to maintain public records on the number of cameras used by the department, a daily record of cameras deployed, the total amount of recorded data and the policy itself.
Files that contain data on subjects who may have rights limiting disclosure under state law must be flagged. Such individuals include, but are not limited to, victims of criminal sexual conduct, child abuse and vulnerable adults, as well as undercover police officers and informants.
Data gathered by the cameras are presumed private — meaning it is only available to the subject of the data or with their consent — except under certain circumstances. Data is instead considered confidential, meaning it is only available to the department itself, if it is collected as part of a criminal investigation.
Data collected by the cameras may be considered public if it documents the discharge of a firearm by an officer in the course of duty, other than the killing of a sick or dangerous animal. Documentation of the use of force by an officer that results in substantial bodily harm is also public. Camera data may also be made public if the subject of a piece of data requests it, but the data is subject to redaction. Any data that documents the final disposition of a disciplinary action against a public employee is also considered public.
Anyone seeking access to data from the cameras must submit a request to the chief of police. A citizen may review the data unless it was collected during a criminal investigation, or if that data is otherwise legally prohibited from being accessed by the individual.
A copy of the data may be provided to the subject unless it is part of an active investigation. If the recording contains data on other individuals who do not consent to its release it may be redacted to omit those subjects. Data that would identify an undercover officer also would be redacted. Data that records non-undercover officers who are on duty may not be redacted.
The full version of the policy can be found on the Milaca city website (cityofmilaca.org) under the police department section.