The Chaska Police Department will soon begin a yearlong pilot program outfitting its officers with body cameras, marking the first department in Carver County to make the switch.

After studying the technology for a year and a half, authorities have entered a free trial period to evaluate the gear. Chief Scott M. Knight said he hopes to have the body worn cameras (BWCs) fully implemented by the end of June.

"I do believe that we are on the cusp of making a technological 'quantum leap' regarding our steadfast commitment to community policing by deploying BWCs," Knight wrote in a memo to the City Council.

More suburban police departments across the metro are considering equipping their officers with body cameras in an effort to improve accountability and transparency — partly in response to public outrage over excessive use of force by officers.

In neighboring Scott County, at least four cities, including Shakopee, Prior Lake, Belle Plaine and Elko New Market, have rolled out body cameras.

Savage police also plan to pilot the technology when they equip five officers with body cameras by year's end.

The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association found that more than 67 percent of municipal chiefs are in favor of body cameras and 23.5 percent are seeking more information on the cameras.

Liz Sawyer


Five-story apartment complex proposed

A Forest Lake construction company has pitched building a 125-unit apartment complex overlooking the Minnesota River in Shakopee.

Gaughan Companies submitted a preliminary proposal to City Council on Tuesday to construct market rate apartments at First Avenue and Atwood Street. The five-story complex, dubbed the River Bluff development, would include space for a restaurant and scenic views of the waterway.

The design would create "more of a row house feel" for units on First Avenue, with tenant patios on the upper floors and underground parking, Michael Kerski, director of planning and development, said in a city memo.

Gaughan will seek tax increment financing (TIF) for "bedrock removal, removal of a recently discovered garbage dump along the river, relocation of Levee Drive and sidewalk and streetscape improvements adjacent to the project," according to an Economic Development Authority memo.

The creation of TIF districts is an economic development tool that captures new property tax revenue to help pay for the project.

City Council members would need to approve the TIF note, which would also reimburse the city for property acquisition, utility relocation and other costs, and set a maximum value in July.

On Tuesday, the five-member Economic Development Authority approved a $200,000 contract to buy the land for the development site. It currently houses a residential property.

The proposal comes less than a year after CPM Cos. walked away from a $24 million redevelopment project to revitalize the city's historic downtown with a 70-unit apartment complex and boutique hotel.

If approved, River Bluff — along with a flurry of apartments and starter homes — will help alleviate a housing shortage in the southwestern suburb where no new rental units have been built in more than a dozen years.

That's about to change. Around 1,100 housing units are slated to be built in Shakopee this year, Kerski said. But the market can support at least several hundred more.

Liz Sawyer

Dakota County

SMART Center receives $6.2M from state

The Safety and Mental Health Alternative Response Training (SMART) Center, a new regional hub dedicated to teaching police officers and first responders crisis intervention skills, received $6.2 million in state funding from the bonding bill Gov. Mark Dayton signed May 30. It will provide space for police officers, firefighters and paramedics from Dakota County and around the region.

The 35,000-square-foot building is planned for Inver Grove Heights, near Hwy. 55 and Concord Boulevard.

The SMART Center was the Dakota County Board's top legislative priority for 2018. Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie touted the center as a place law enforcement could develop the skills needed to help people experiencing mental health crises, which account for an increasing number of 911 calls.

The county's growing Electronic Crimes Unit and Drug Task Force will also use the new space, the release said.

The county, which committed $6.6 million to the project, anticipates starting the design phase this year and finishing construction by 2020, according to a county news release.

The HERO Center, another law enforcement training center proposed by the cities of Cottage Grove and Woodbury, also received $9.5 million from the bonding bill.

Erin Adler


Park opens new nature play area

A play area for children featuring natural elements — including tree cookies, climbing rocks and logs, building sticks and limestone benches — debuted this weekend at Burnsville's Terrace Oaks East Park, 12801 County Road 11. The new space opened as part of "I Love Burnsville Week," held last Monday through Sunday.

The nature play area had its grand opening Saturday, an event that featured several nature experts and the chance to meet one of several goats that will soon be eating buckthorn in Burnsville's park system.

Natural play areas have gained popularity over the last decade as budget-friendly places for kids to get both creative and dirty, using organic materials to design their own ways to play.

Terrace Oaks East is a four-acre park with trails for walking, biking and cross-country skiing. The area also has basketball and tennis courts, ball fields and a skating rink in the winter.

Erin Adler