A north metro department is even issuing them to every cop.
Officer-worn cameras are spreading beyond the south metro area as Burnsville’s success with them becomes more widely known.
Spring Lake Park police will replace dashboard-mounted cameras in squad cars with an officer-worn version. The north metro department is believed to be the first in the Twin Cities to issue body cameras to all 11 of its officers. The cameras record interactions with the public.
Burnsville has been doing that for years, issuing body cameras to about half of its 75 officers.
Columbia Heights is also testing out body cameras and plans to issue one to each of its 27 officers starting in 2015.
While smaller suburban police forces are warming to their use, larger departments including Minneapolis have resisted public calls to use body-mounted cameras, with department brass saying the devices need more study. St. Paul police also do not use officer-worn cameras.
Four years ago
Burnsville police started using body cameras in 2010. Officers now wear them mounted to the front of their uniforms. The camera looks like a pager and gives a much fuller, more accurate account of an officer’s encounter with a person than a dash cam, officers say.
“Ninety-four percent of what happens in a police officer’s day is not directly in front of the squad car,” said Burnsville Chief Eric Gieseke.
Gieseke said the cameras have been successful in his city. Department officials, the city attorney and county attorney can pull up footage on a secure server almost instantly.
“They’ve been very effective in helping prepare cases for court,” Gieseke said.
It also helps investigate complaints against officers.
“If we get a complaint and there is video, we certainly look at it. It has been helpful in a number of cases. In some instances, we shared that video with the person making the complaint,” Gieseke said.
Dakota County Attorney Chief Deputy Phil Prokopowicz said the Burnsville footage has been effective at trial, especially in domestic assault cases, where victims may feel pressured to recant, or officers’ decisions can be second-guessed by defense attorneys.
“It takes the jury or the judge … right to the scene. It sees what the officer sees, including all the emotions, the real-life effect of what is happening out there,” Prokopowicz said. “It’s a very powerful video.”
In addition to the sounds that officers hear as they approach a house, such as screaming and pounding, the camera also provides footage of victims often seconds or minutes after a crime.
“You get their firsthand account and the trembling in their voice,” Prokopowicz said.
He recalls a case where officers responding to a domestic call encountered a man with a knife in an apartment hallway. Officers could be heard trying to talk the man down.
When force is required, the video offers judges and juries a better understanding of how the situation escalated.