St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has rejected a City Council call for a pilot program aimed at equipping police with body cameras, saying the department already is studying the issue.
"Chief [Thomas] Smith will share that information with Council as you asked, and he and I will continue to discuss how and when to advance this innovation," Coleman wrote in a letter to council members this week.
The mayor said he was returning unsigned their resolution seeking the pilot program, "but with the understanding that you have communicated the sentiments of the council on this matter and have left future action to me."
The council resolution also called for a plan to develop financial incentives to encourage more officers to live in the city, which the mayor said was the right idea but the wrong approach.
The focus instead should be on making St. Paul the kind of place where people freely choose to live, Coleman wrote.
"If the goal of this measure is — in part — to ensure a continued focus on diversifying our Police Department, then I think a physical address makes less of a difference than life experience and background," he added.
Council Member Chris Tolbert, who sponsored the Feb. 4 resolution with Council Member Dai Thao, said he was "disappointed" by Coleman's action.
"I'm happy that the administration is at least looking at body cameras … [but] sometimes we on the council need to assert what our priorities are," Tolbert said.
Groups such as Black Lives Matter are pushing body cameras and residency requirements to enhance relations between police and residents. Their thought is that body cameras can improve accountability on both sides, while daily interactions with the neighborhood officer can dissolve suspicion and fear.
In his letter to council members, Coleman said that police will continue to find out from other departments how body cameras work, what they cost, the training required to use them and data privacy issues.
As for residential financial incentives, the mayor said that one department's employees shouldn't be given more incentives than others to live in the city.
Tolbert said police are different.
"Police are unique in their actions with the community," he said. "When they do live in the city, they help build community policing in an organic way. We thought this would be at least worth taking a look."