Ahead of plans to launch a pilot project to test body cameras, the St. Paul Police Department announced Wednesday two informational meetings for the public to discuss the program.

The first meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 21, at the police’s Western patrol district station at 389 N. Hamline Avenue. The second meeting will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 10, at the Eastern district station at 722 Payne Avenue.

The St. Paul police are exploring the use of body cameras during a time when fatal shootings by officers have led some to question police use of force and demand greater transparency involving police’s interactions with citizens.

Last month, the St. Paul police received a $600,000 grant from the Department of Justice to help with the start of the testing, which is scheduled to begin next spring or summer. The city is supposed to match the grant. Minneapolis police received a similar award.

The department hopes to start rolling out the full program by 2017.

The meetings will be a chance for the public to ask questions and be updated on the program and current data privacy laws, said Comm. Axel Henry, who has helped lead the department’s body camera research.

"We want to give people the opportunity to ask questions…so we can create a dialogue," Henry said.

Police surveyed about 1,400 people about body cameras during the summer. About 81 percent of those questioned said police body cameras would help increase trust in law enforcement and 64 percent said they thought the behavior of officers would improve if they were wearing a camera.

However, when it came to questions on access to camera footage, people seemed to disagree on issues of privacy.

About 39 percent of people said they should be able to request footage of themselves to be private and another 48 percent of people said it depended on the nature and location of the video.

"There’s a lot of conversations out there on every end of that spectrum on data privacy," Henry said.

A synopsis of both meetings will be posted on the police department’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stpaulpolice. Depending on demand, it is possible that there will be more public meetings, Henry said.
 
NICOLE NORFLEET AND JAMES WALSH