Police patrolling Minneapolis parks will be outfitted with body cameras by mid-December, the latest department to opt for the technology as a means to increase accountability and trust.
The Park Board recently approved a five-year $181,016 agreement with Axon Enterprises to equip its 35 sworn patrol officers with the cameras.
“Clearly residents and visitors to Minneapolis want officers to be equipped with body cameras,” said Chief Jason Ohotto. “It provides an unbiased narrative of police-community interaction that is important for us in maintaining public trust.”
Park police have been working on a body camera policy for months, but Ohotto said it was amended after the July shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond by a Minneapolis police officer. Neither of the Minneapolis officers who were there had their body cameras turned on at the time of the shooting.
Park police officers will be required to turn on their cameras for vehicle stops, during interactions with suspects, when using force, and during verbal confrontations, property searches and arrests. Some interactions with civilians inside and outside parks could be recorded. According to the department’s policy, the digital files would be kept for seven years for arrests and misdemeanor citations and stored indefinitely for officer-involved shootings.
Park Board members have said they support the use of body cameras, but they have raised questions about Park Police sharing the files with other law enforcement agencies, including Minneapolis Police and federal immigration officials.
Ohotto said it’s crucial his department shares files with its criminal justice partners — the Minneapolis Police Department, the city attorney’s office and the Hennepin County attorney’s office.
“As the park police department and local law enforcement we’re not involved in immigration matters,” Ohotto said.
Policing and police-community relations were common topics among candidates before the November election, with many candidates saying they wanted to make changes with the park police.
Commissioner-elect Londel French, who won one of the at-large seats, said the use of body cameras is a step in the right direction, but not enough to gain the community’s trust.
“I want our cops to be a little bit more reflective of the community members they serve and preferably live in our city, that’s a big step,” French said. “We have to take steps toward restorative justice programs because a lot of times cops deal with our kids.”