Dozens of police body cameras will roll out on the streets of St. Paul late this summer as the city experiments with the technology.
Police are introducing the cameras as state legislators adopted new regulations that set uniform guidelines for who determines when the cameras are activated, what access the public has to the videos and how long the data should be stored, among other issues. The measure is on its way to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature, but community leaders have pressed for a veto, saying it favors police.
The department will proceed with its body camera rollout regardless of what happens at the Capitol, said Cmdr. Axel Henry, who is overseeing the project.
“Our community wants these cameras,” Henry said. “We always want to be as proactive as possible.”
The department hopes to roll out 40 to 60 body cameras in August as part of the pilot project and to fully outfit about 400 of its approximately 600 officers with the technology by October 2017.
Officers who do not frequently work the streets will likely not have personally assigned cameras, but loaner cameras will be available.
Henry and Sgt. Jeff Stiff have been researching the issue and gathering community input since early 2015 to craft a policy on use of body cameras.
Henry said the policy has not been formalized.
Regarding when cameras should be activated and the public can access the data, Henry said his motto is, “When in doubt, record. When in doubt, protect [privacy].”
Henry said some situations, such as traffic stops, should call for automatic activation of the cameras, while others should allow officers discretion to turn them off, for example, in the home of a burglary victim who makes that request.
The program is expected to cost $1.3 million its first year and $700,000 each subsequent year for storing data, hiring and paying new staff to manage the data and other costs.
Other elements remain undecided, including what model camera the department will buy. Henry and Stiff have worked with sample cameras, and the department is preparing to bid soon for the equipment.