St. Paul's first police body cameras went live Tuesday following a two-year effort to implement the technology.
About 30 officers completed a six-hour training session Tuesday and finished their shifts that night wearing cameras. The department expects that number to double by the end of the week, and hopes to have about 450 of its 620 officers routinely wearing body cameras by the end of the year.
The department has 556 cameras, which Senior Cmdr. Axel Henry said would allow them to outfit between 65 to 70 percent of its force in keeping with national standards.
"It's a tool our community wants, our officers want," said Henry, who oversaw the implementation of the body cameras.
St. Paul NAACP President Dianne Binns said she was initially skeptical of body cameras since each department creates its own policies. But, she said, community members overwhelmingly told the NAACP that they wanted police to wear body cameras, which might remind officers and civilians to "mind your manners."
"It's another tool, especially during [traffic] stops," Binns said. That's one thing a lot of people talk about that will give them a level of safety — that there are another pair of eyes looking."
St. Paul police began gathering public input on use of body cameras in 2015 and ran a two-month pilot project with cameras late last year. The St. Paul NAACP was also involved, and Binns said the organization pushed for a policy prohibiting officers from reviewing camera footage in a critical incident before speaking with investigators.
St. Paul's policy states that in critical incidents, officers can view or listen to body camera footage only after meeting with a union representative or attorney, if they wish, and after the officer and his or her attorney have "met with the investigative entity or designee regarding the process for a Critical Incident."
However, the policy does allow officers to review footage in noncritical incidents before writing a police report or making a statement to ensure accuracy.
The program costs the department $750,000 a year.
Other key provisions of the city's policy include:
• "Officers must activate their BWC (body worn camera) at their earliest opportunity and before arriving on scene."
• Recording is required when an officer responds to a call or incident, and for traffic and investigative stops, vehicle pursuits, arrests, transport of arrestees, frisks, searches of people, cars or buildings, encounters with resistant or aggressive subjects and when ordered by a supervisor, among other scenarios.
• During a critical incident, such as officer-involved shootings, cameras can only be turned off when a supervisor or investigator makes the call.
• Recording is prohibited in patient care areas of hospitals, in sexual assault treatment centers, during nonwork activity and at other times.
• Officers are given discretion to record in other situations that are not clearly outlined in the policy. Henry said the department's motto is, "When in doubt, record."