The Minneapolis City Council’s Public Safety Committee has approved a $4 million contract that will allow the city to outfit all of its police officers with body cameras by the end of the year.
The committee’s unanimous approval of the contract with Taser International will be forwarded to the full council for a final vote next week. The city expects to begin equipping officers with the cameras in May, starting with the downtown First Precinct. The Fourth Precinct, covering north Minneapolis, will be next, followed by other areas of the city.
In total, the city plans to spend $6.4 million over the next five years to cover the cost of the cameras, software from Taser International, and additional staff members who will review the footage and respond to public records requests. That includes about $1.6 million this year. In the future, the city expects the body camera program will cost about $1.2 million annually. A federal grant will cover $600,000 of this year’s expenses.
Plans to outfit officers with body cameras have taken on greater urgency following the fatal police shooting last fall of Jamar Clark, which sparked weeks of protest in Minneapolis, and heightened concerns nationwide about police use of force. The officers involved did not have body cameras, but activists have repeatedly demanded the department release other video from that confrontation.
While the program is moving forward, some council members and police accountability advocates say they’re worried the city isn’t entirely ready.
Before approving the contract, some council members said they remain concerned that the city doesn’t have enough staff members dedicated to processing footage from the cameras. Minneapolis has set aside funding for two full-time employees, but Council Member Blong Yang pointed out that other cities that use body cameras have more than a dozen people for related work.
Council Member Linea Palmisano said she thinks the city needs to add to its staff in the City Clerk’s Office, which handles most data requests.
But Deputy Chief Travis Glampe said the city and the department want to err on the side of caution as they wait to see how many requests come in, and what decisions state lawmakers reach on the public availability of body camera footage.
Glampe acknowledged that the work will be time-consuming, with each request requiring someone at the city to watch the video in full to check whether information needs to be redacted.
“We are putting ourselves in a position to see what the state Legislature does and get knee-deep in this and see what actually do we need,” he said. “I do think we are going to need more people once we get going, but I’d like to give you a more accurate figure as we get into it and figure out what we need.”
Police officials said they plan to release their department’s new body camera policy — crafted with input from the city’s Police Conduct Oversight Commission — within the next couple of weeks. The department will take public input on the policy, Glampe said.
That timeline concerns Michelle Gross, president of the watchdog group Communities United Against Police Brutality. Her group sent a letter to the city after learning it planned to go ahead with the deal with Taser before releasing a body camera policy.
Gross said she’s troubled that the council is planning to spend public money before telling the public exactly how the city will use the cameras.
“To say: ‘Let’s give you some money, and you come up with a policy later’?” Gross said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Council Member Cam Gordon asked police officials to return to the committee in two weeks with a full outline of how they intend to reach out to the public.
“I think people are very curious to see how close our policy will be to the [Police Conduct Oversight Commission] policy,” he said.
The city’s contract will provide for the purchase of 587 cameras, along with docking stations and other equipment. It also includes 300 “conducted electrical weapons,” commonly known as Tasers, made by the same company.
Several police departments from around the metro area and the state have petitioned lawmakers to keep body camera footage private. A handful of state legislators are working on policy proposals, which could be taken up this year.
Statewide, more than 40 law enforcement agencies are already using body cameras, including police in Burnsville and Duluth.