Mendota Heights begins discussion on police body cameras

The Mendota Heights City Council began a discussion at its Sept. 17 meeting about implementing body-worn cameras for the city’s police officers.

The police department could begin using such cameras as soon as early next year.

Police Chief Kelly McCarthy said in an interview the department started looking into body cameras a year ago.

“We started looking into them as public expectation is changing,” she said.” I think that the first question that citizens ask after an incident is, ‘Is there video?’”

McCarthy added that officers are leading the charge on getting cameras sooner, rather than later.

Officer Eric Hagelee said in an interview the department started seeing more and more body cameras elsewhere in the county and state. Other departments were using the footage and audio from body cameras as both evidentiary tools in criminal prosecution and also for internal affairs investigations.

Hagelee said the wish to have cameras sooner rather than later is because of the evidentiary value behind them. All squad cars have cameras and officers wear body microphones, but Hagelee said the connection between the squad camera and microphones can only go so far.

“Obviously, with our body mics all we have is audio,” he said. “We don’t have any video from that, and video, from an evidentiary value [standpoint], is really important to get the full story of what happened on a scene.”

 

Testing

McCarthy said at the Sept. 17 meeting the purpose of the topic being on the council agenda was to gather public comments about police body cameras.

“We felt this was a good junction at which to have this discussion, when you’re looking at the preliminary budget,” she said, though no residents stepped up to speak.

Council member Joel Paper said he thinks the proposal is good policy and will make sure all parties, both police and the general public, remain safe. He asked what the next steps would look like in terms of implementation, and what kind of cameras would best suit the department. 

McCarthy said the department has been in a soft-testing phase, where officers can test several types of cameras in order to provide input.

“What our officers have found is the Taser or Axon camera is their preferred camera. It does integrate with a Taser or Axon in-car camera system as well,” McCarthy said. 

Hagelee said in a Sept. 19 interview it’s important officers tested the cameras because they are the ones wearing them. He added if one had a “really stupid way to turn it on or off,” they could figure that out in a matter of minutes into a shift. 

The testing was done in the field, with the first test camera worn for a month or two by four different officers on different shifts. The second test period was the same length of time.

Hagelee said the Axon body camera, made by the same manufacturer as the Taser, was favored due to its simplicity. 

“They’re small, compact. I mean they’re probably the size of your average cellphone,” he said.

 

Implementation

The next steps would be negotiating with Taser and Axon for prices. Once the camera budget  is approved for funding, McCarthy said the department would work with the camera company and data storage provider to make sure the cameras can be purchased and implemented in squad cars, as well as given to every officer. 

McCarthy said the goal would be, once the budget is set, to have the cameras in the department’s possession close to the first of the year. There will be another public hearing once a draft body camera policy is solidified, she added.

“We are taking citizens comments via any way people want to give them to us, but it’s just nice to carve out this time in a formal setting so that we can make sure we’re checking those boxes off,” McCarthy said.

Council member Liz Petschel said she knows an issue with such cameras is the storage of the data. She asked McCarthy if she had reached a “satisfactory” arrangement with that moving forward.

“Each provider, the storage is how they get you,” McCarthy said. “The equipment isn’t that terribly expensive. It’s the data storage.”

McCarthy added they are slightly lucky because the department won’t be producing as much video as a larger city like Eagan or Burnsville. She said if the department and city does go with Taser or Axon, the storage is in the cloud. Such storage meets state requirements and has an ease of use for the discovery phase of trials.

Council member Jay Miller asked how attorneys would access videos.

McCarthy said the department could email a link so the attorney could log in and see that particular incident for a set amount of time. 

For another layer of oversight, McCarthy said she would want to give the city attorney full access to all the videos.

Miller asked what happens to the camera data if the department switches providers. McCarthy said the data could be moved to the city’s own servers or storage. 

Miller also asked if the storage gets more expensive every year. McCarthy said the department is conservatively planning for a cost of $20,000 for storage each year. 

“That is a high number,” she said. “I wanted to make sure we had the money.”

 

- Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here