“At first glance that force many seem over the top or abusive. Once they see the entire video, they understand why the officer reacted that way.
“This is what the officers are experiencing out there. It helps explain the officers’ conduct.”
In a world with security cameras on every corner and bystanders, witnesses and suspects using smartphones to record police encounters, it only makes sense to outfit officers with the same tools, Gieseke said.
“The reality is, we are being recorded by someone or something a majority of the day. We should certainly give our officers the tools everyone else has,” Gieseke said. “Somewhere down the road, people are not going to want to do their job without a camera.”
Spring Lake Police Chief Doug Ebeltoft told his City Council that outfitting the department with body cameras would be affordable and would protect the city and individual officers from liability.
Body cameras can take the “we-said, they-said” out of disputes, he said.
“Due to phenomenal advances in technology, officer-worn video systems are now cost-effective and small enough and durable enough to withstand the rigors of police work,” Ebeltoft told the council, which approved the purchase of body cameras in June with little discussion.
Purchasing the cameras will cost $12,000, about one-third the $36,000 the city had budgeted to replace the dashboard cameras.
Ebeltoft said he has ordered the cameras and will deploy them as soon as possible.
“The officers are very receptive to the camera systems. We have had camera systems in our patrol vehicles for years and the officers realize the benefits of having them,” Ebeltoft said.
Video will be saved until a case has concluded and then for about 90 days afterward in case of appeals. Then they will be destroyed, he said.
Columbia Heights Police Chief Scott Nadeau said the cost to his department will be around $30,000 for three years, including software, storage and technical support. Columbia Heights will get rid of the dash cameras.
Bigger is slower
Burnsville police’s body cameras haven’t faced the most extreme test, a police-involved shooting.
Gieseke said he understands larger departments’ decision to move cautiously. Outfitting hundreds of officers in one department takes time, technology and management.
“When you have a department that size, you want to be slow and strategic and deliberate,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said body cameras can increase officer accountability, but departments need consistent policies in place about when they are turned on and when officers shut them off.