Plans to outfit Minneapolis cops with body cameras are taking shape as the city takes its first steps to identify a contractor.
A request for proposals, released Thursday afternoon, says the city plans to test and evaluate services from multiple vendors in different precincts before making a final determination. Last year, Mayor Betsy Hodges pushed successfully to include $400,000 in this year's budget for the project.
The issue first arose in October 2013, when Hodges and two other council members proposed the body cameras partly as a method for stemming police brutality. Several cities across the country are already using the devices, including Burnsville, Minn.
The request seeks proposals by May 21. The city will conduct a field test and evaluation in three police precincts for at least six months.
The city is seeking cameras that record both audio and video, can be mounted in multiple ways (including on a helmet), and can be worn extreme weather including temperatures as low as -5 degrees. Officers must be able to activate the cameras with a single switch or button.
Notably, the device also cannot have the capability of editing or deleting the original video file.
A separate storage system must allow users to search recordings by name, date, event or case number. The storage system must be accessible throughout the police department and at any MPD workstation, though footage will be restricted through a series of roles and permissions. The storage system should also generate an audit trail for all user activity.
Some research into the cameras has shown that the reduce complaints and use of force. But other questions remain, such as when the cameras are activated and who gets recorded (like tipsters who would rather remain anonymous).
Photo: Burnsville police chief Eric Gieseke showed how one of the original body camera's several police officers on the Burnsville Police Department wear on patrol on Monday, October 21, 2013, in Burnsville, Minn. The camera is worn on the head and has a screen which attached to the belt. This is the third year the Burnsville Police Department has used these body cameras. (Renee Jones Schneider)
A new architectural landmark has risen on a previously empty spot along Hiawatha Avenue, but what's inside may shock you.
Literally. It's a new Xcel Energy substation.
The new structure along the Midtown Greenway is one of just a handful of substations in the country with an aesthetic exterior. Architects used gold aluminum mesh to create a fabric-like wrap on the outside of the facility -- which will eventually be lit up at night.
During a recent tour of the site, architect Nina Ebbighausen with Architectural Alliance noted that more than 40,000 cars, light rail passengers and bicyclists will pass it daily.
“We’re standing on a site that is going to be viewed many times, not just by the locals," Ebbighausen said. "But also by people who maybe have never been to Minneapolis before and are arriving for the first time by LRT.”
The facility is one of two new substations that Xcel is installing in South Minneapolis. The other, on the Greenway between Oakland and Portland Aves., will also have an artistic wrap. Construction on that facility will begin in June (see rendering below).
The state's public utilities commission required the company to consult with community members about the aesthetic look of the structure. That advisory group that shaped the substation's design got a tour on Tuesday morning.
“This is the first where we’ve tried something like this that has more of an architectural feel," said Joe Samuel, Xcel's senior project manager.
The two future substations connected by underground lines along 28th Street, comprise Xcel's first new transmission corridor in the city in 20 years, according to a 2008 story about the project.
Those connecting lines were controversial. The city ane neighborhood representatives fiercely opposed an alternative plan to route the lines overhead or underground on the Midtown Greenway.
Samuel said that the project came in response to increased demand in the area. He noted development along the Midtown Greenway, as well as conversion of the Sears building into the Midtown Exchange.
"We have a lot of redevelopment that’s occurring," Samuel said. "And then with that higher density type uses, which have more electrical demand.”
Tuesday's tour was split into two visions of the site: architectural and electrical.
Ken Sheehan, one of the other architects, said that their firm had a hard time finding precedents nationally for an aesthetically wrapped substation.
“Our firm occasionally will pursue projects like this because we just think they’re really interesting from a design perspective and they have such a huge impact on the community," Sheehan said.
Notably, the bands of aluminum do not cover the entire structure. Ebbighausen said it wasn't practical to reach the top reaches of the facility, for example. But opacity and a lower buffer allow views of the sloping wires and cone-shaped objects connected to the transformers and circuit breakers.
"We thought one could actually celebrate some of the interesting features of the substation structure," Ebbighausen said. "So the mesh, the fact that it’s translucent, rather than opaque, was an important aspect to us."
The translucency was also important so that sun should shine on the Greenway, allowing snow to melt earlier in the season.
Inside, the complicated mass of metal are stepping down voltage from 115kV to 13.8kV. The current arrives from Xcel's Riverside, Black Dog and Sherco generating stations. It's then distributed at the lower voltage to neighborhoods.
The facility will be unmanned, which is why workers were putting the finishing touches on an 8-foot security wall Tuesday. Known as a Gabion wall, it is made up of rocks that are filled into metallic structures.
Atop the wall is a squirrel guard, which hinders the creatures from getting inside. When they do -- a fairly common occurrence -- they are easily electrocuted by touching two of the "phases" or being grounded while touching one.
These incidents, explained Xcel's Nathan Steward, are known as a "squirrel flashovers.” Birds have fewer problems, since merely sitting on exposed areas won't garner an electric shock -- the circuit must be completed. "Typically birds will sit on a [single] phase," Steward said.
Distribution from the Hiawatha substation will begin in the next month.
Don't expect to see many audits coming out of City Hall this year.
City leaders hit 'reset' on Minneapolis' internal audit function this January after City Hall's lone auditor, Magdy Mossaad, left for a health care job in Florida. Several months later, they continue to mull over just what the city's auditing department should look like.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who chairs the city's on-hiatus audit committee said a new auditor may be hired by September after a national search that will soon get underway. The internal audit function would begin in earnest in October.
No audits are currently underway except for a routine state audit of city finances. Palmisano said outside consultants would be retained if city department heads feel a particular audit already slated for this year is urgent. A separate team with the city coordinator's office helping improve departmental efficiency.
The approved 2014 audit plan includes reviewing the rebidding of the city's largest contract (with IT contractor Unisys), checking for adequate controls on city purchasing cards and ensuring city-owned iPads are secure.
Palmisano said that healthy audit functions they have reviewed -- such as Hennepin County -- help shape and improve new programs, rather than merely releasing reports about past activities.
"When we embed audit in the beginnings of something new, like in a new program, that helps to set it up for success," Palmisano said. "Unfortunately audit seems to be more of a ‘gotcha’ kind of function."
Another key change that Palmisano expects to see is that audit findings would automatically be forwarded to an appropriate City Council committee. The job will also likely be elevated to become a more highly paid position.
"I'd like it to help be one of the levels of greater transparency in government, whether it's more from an open data perspective and making things available and out there for more people," Palmisano said.
The latest city budget provides for three FTEs in the auditing department, an increase over the previous year. Palmisano said part of the reason the money isn't paying for outside consultants is that the 2014 approved audits -- in some cases -- were overly vague.
Outside reviewers concluded in 2009 that the city should employ at least three internal auditors. Hennepin County, by comparison, employs 13 in its internal audit department. St. Paul does not have dedicated auditors.
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