A new report from a Minneapolis Police Department oversight panel lays a solid foundation for work on a policy governing how officers will use body cameras.
After months of research that included reviewing best practices from several cities and collecting community input, this week the Police Conduct Oversight Commission approved its findings. Though nonbinding, the group’s advice is valuable. Department officials say they will take the report “under advisement,’’ with the goal of adopting a policy and equipping officers with body cameras sometime next year.
The commission wisely recommends requiring patrol officers to activate cameras during all law enforcement activities and any noncriminal interaction with citizens, in the latter case as long as they get consent. And the commission says that video of those encounters should be retained for at least 280 days, the amount of time citizens have to file a complaint against an officer following an incident. Use-of-force incidents should be stored for at least three years, and any footage containing images of a death — either police or civilian — should be kept indefinitely.
One of the more controversial suggestions would prohibit officers from editing or viewing body camera footage before writing their incident reports. Some officers object to that provision, but it is essential to support transparency and accountability. As the commissioners rightly concluded, “such viewing will preserve the evidentiary value of reports, provide multiple perspectives on an incident, and reduce potential falsification of reports.”
Another potential issue involves public release of video footage. Of course the information should be available in accordance with the state’s Data Practices Act. But to address privacy concerns, the report recommends informing any subjects of the video footage before it’s released.
When MPD outfits its officers with body cams, it will join at least 41 Minnesota law enforcement agencies that already use the devices. The MPD recently concluded its monthslong pilot program, during which 36 officers tested the cameras. The city has set aside about $1.1 million for the body camera program, and has applied for a $600,000 federal grant to help defray costs. Once the MPD and the city agree on the policy, they are expect to select a vendor later this fall, and begin department wide use in early 2016.
Body cameras won’t magically resolve all police-related complaints. But there’s plenty of evidence that they have made a positive difference in many communities. Many departments have found that the small cameras reduce incidents of officer misconduct and some criminal behavior. Like other law enforcement agencies, MPD has experienced problems with police community relations and excessive force complaints. It should use the commission report to finalize its policy and, as soon as possible, put body cameras to work.
To read the entire commission report, go to tinyurl.com/MPD-report.