Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher wants nearly all of his 400 deputies and corrections officers to wear body cameras, and he hopes to start rolling out the program by late summer.
Fletcher said Tuesday that he was moving swiftly after the recent release of a 2016 video showing a Ramsey County corrections officer punching and kneeing a handcuffed suspect while others watched. The officer has since pleaded guilty and resigned.
This “is about transparency, accountability and a chance to build trust in the community,” Fletcher told the Ramsey County Board, at times referencing the police shootings of St. Paul school nutrition supervisor Philando Castile and Justine Ruszczyk Damond of Minneapolis.
The newly elected sheriff laid out his accelerated plans and listened to feedback from commissioners, who will be asked to spend $3.5 million on body cameras over the next three years. Fletcher’s predecessor, Sheriff Jack Serier, had aimed for a 2020 rollout.
Before deputies don the chest-mounted cameras, Fletcher said, he and his managers will develop policies for camera usage and video retention. They plan to train staffers and host a series of community meetings to educate citizens and get their feedback.
Several commissioners urged Fletcher to expand the number of community meetings beyond the three initially proposed. The County Board will then consider the body camera funding request later this spring.
“We will have to explain the benefits and limitations of the cameras. It’s not a perfect science,” Fletcher said.
The Sheriff’s Office, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Ramsey County, runs the jail, manages courthouse security, and operates as the police agency for Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Little Canada, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township.
While police across the country — including in Minneapolis and St. Paul — already wear cameras on patrol, Fletcher said that having corrections officers in the jail strap on the cameras will be “groundbreaking.”
“It is my intent to have everyone wearing them in the detention facility,” Fletcher said. They should be activated whenever an officer is engaging with an inmate, he said.
The jail body cameras will give community members assurances that their family members are being treated with dignity, the sheriff said.
“My own son was in the jail twice,” Fletcher told the board. “People worry about their loved ones when they are in a facility.”
The biggest challenge could be determining retention and release policies for video taken in the jail. State law guides police body camera usage and video retention, but the jail video could fall under several different statutes, an assistant Ramsey County attorney said.
Fletcher said he supports a policy that promotes accountability but added that he has to consider the security of the facility and individuals’ privacy. He said that he doesn’t want to see booking videos turned into humiliating YouTube fodder.
Commissioners seemed to support body cameras in both the jail and on deputies working in the community.
“I think it’s good for us to be groundbreaking,” Board Chairman Jim McDonough said.
Several residents attended the meeting, including Scott Moen of St. Paul.
“I am pro-body cameras, especially with the number of police shootings and killings around the country,” Moen said.