Police body cams debuted Friday in Minneapolis in a test that will stretch over much of the next year, meaning that people who encounter any of 36 officers packing the video devices could wind up recorded.

"We're here!  It's been a while," Police Chief Janee Harteau exulted a a news conference Friday afternoon. The department showed off the devices intended to usher a new era of police accountability, while shielding officers from fabricated accusations. The test will be conducted by officers in the First, Fourth and Fifth precincts.

Use of the cameras is governed by a policy that provides guidance on when camera should be triggered, and when they may be turned off.  They can be used to record an expected altercation or to record statements, officials said. But they may be turned off in situations such as when police enter a house. 

The camera won't be on all the time because that's not feasible, Harteau said. She said the recordings can be downloaded and stored much like squad car videos, on which some of the protocol for their use is based. The recordings can't be tampered with or destroyed by officers, officials said, but may be edited to block nudity or youngsters.

Police will test two models of cameras for three to four months each, giving officers to a chance to evaluate their cold-weather performance. Other factors to be considered include ease of use and video quality.

The camera debut comes 13 months after Mayor Betsy Hodges, campaigning for that job, joined two other council members in calling for the camera.  But a department spokesman rebuffed the idea initially, saying that the department wasn''t ready to adopt them in the "near future."

The department said before launching the test it consulted with other departments using the cameras, the Department of Justice and the Police Executive Research Forum, a police research and policy nonprofit.

But Harteau said Friday that the department had no trouble finding volunteers to use the devices, and praised the police union for helping to develop the pilot test. Full implementation after the pilot would cost  $1.1 million, which Hodges has included in her proposed 2015 budget. Officials hope to expand the use of camera to the entire patrol force by the end of 2015.

Homicide video will be kept permanently, while that associated with other crimes would be kept through the statute of limitations. Recordings for lesser crimes would be kept for a year, Deputy Chief Travis Glampe said.

(Star Tribune file photo)