Hennepin County sheriff's deputies soon will be outfitted with body cameras following the County Board's decision Tuesday to spend $5.1 million on cameras, data storage and Taser equipment.
The body camera request was the first major initiative from Sheriff David Hutchinson, who addressed the board on the proposal earlier this month. The board signed off on the purchase without discussion.
First to get the cameras, expected to begin this year, will be officers in the field such as patrol and warrant officers, water patrol and hospital security deputies and crime scene investigators. Hutchinson told the board he wants to equip 148 deputies by the end of the year.
The rest of the officers will get cameras in the second phase next year, including detention deputies and court security personnel. By the end of 2020, Hutchinson wants to have an additional 302 deputies wearing them.
The use of body-worn cameras has grown in recent years; Minneapolis and St. Paul police officers wear them. Along with the technology, however, have come nettlesome questions about when they should be turned on and when their data should become public.
Body cameras can provide a visual and audio account of an incident for court and have factored into public understanding of police-involved shootings and incidents.
Under the policy established for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office cameras, Maj. Jeff Storms said deputies will be required to activate the equipment if they draw their gun or Taser. They will be able to activate the camera manually or when they switch on squad lights, he said.
Hutchinson told the board two weeks ago that his deputies "need this technology. … Cameras enhance safety for our deputies and the public. I can't advocate enough for them."
The Minnesota State Patrol is the only large law enforcement agency in the state that doesn't use body cameras. The patrol has had video systems in every squad car.
The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office announced last month it would equip 400 deputies and corrections officers with body cameras by the end of the year. Recently released body-camera footage showed a knife-wielding man repeatedly charging St. Paul police officer Steven Mattson as Mattson ordered him to drop the weapon before firing two fatal shots. At one point, the footage showed the tops of trees, indicating Mattson was briefly on his back in the fatal encounter. Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the footage was critical in determining whether the officer was justified in using deadly force.
Hutchinson's predecessor, former Sheriff Rich Stanek, first went to the board with a body camera proposal in 2016. But he scrubbed the plan in 2017 because of cost.
The equipment will be purchased from Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based Axon Enterprise Inc. Dr. Jeffrey Ho, head of emergency services at the county's safety-net hospital, HCMC, had worked as a paid consultant and medical director for Axon until a series of Star Tribune stories this year.