MPD rolls out police body camera program

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau discusses the new police body camera program. Photo by Sarah McKenzie

The Minneapolis Police Department has launched its long-awaited police body camera program, starting with 1st Precinct officers who work downtown.

Officers working in the 4th Precinct (North Minneapolis) will start wearing the cameras later this month. The entire department will be outfitted with the equipment by fall.

Police leaders and Mayor Betsy Hodges discussed the body camera rollout and demonstrated how officers use the cameras at the MPD’s 1st Precinct station in the Warehouse District on Tuesday.

Police Chief Janeé Harteau said the body cameras have already been a useful crime-fighting tool, capturing footage of gun seizures, among other things. Officers started wearing them July 11.

They were helpful for officers who arrested a robbery suspect downtown after they interviewed the victim who had a hat and shoes stolen, she said. The officers later found the suspect wearing the victim’s hat and holding the shoes.

“What was great about that is not only could you see the individual captured on video, but prosecution and charging happened rather quickly because investigators didn’t have to go out and again talk to victims and talk to witnesses,” she said. “The evidence was right there captured on that body camera. That is invaluable.”

Harteau and Hodges noted that it’s taken some time for the city to get the program up and running.

“This is a long time coming,” Hodges said, adding the community has been asking for cameras for many years and she pushed for them during her mayoral campaign in 2013. “They are a tool that can increase trust and transparency between officers and the community. They are a tool that can help hold everybody accountable in their actions with the police.”

In a recent letter to residents, Hodges and Harteau outlined the benefits of police body cameras, noting they have resulted in fewer use-of-force complaints for other police departments that have rolled out programs.

“Officer-worn body cameras are merely a tool for improving police-community relations; they are not a solution in themselves. But body cameras are an important tool, one that will help us continue to transform the relationship between police and community for the better. They are not the final step in transparency, but they are a big step toward it,” they wrote.

Hodges and Harteau also explained their process for adopting a police body camera policy. The Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC) held four community meetings to gather feedback on body cameras, and the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Relations also held six meetings to gather feedback from the public.

“We weighed heavily the recommendations of the PCOC and the conclusions of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, took input from the City Council, and made sure that the policy is in line with the goals of the National Initiative for Building Trust and Justice, of which Minneapolis is the leading participating city,” they wrote.

The MPD also studied body camera programs in several cities across the country and in Minnesota, including Duluth and Burnsville.

The Minneapolis City Council approved a five-year, $4 million contract with Taser International to outfit officers with body cameras in February. The contract allowed the MPD to buy 587 body cameras, docking stations and storage.

The MPD ran a body camera pilot project between November 2014 and May 2015. Thirty-six officers from the 1st, 4th & 5th Precincts officers participated in the program and captured more than 7,000 videos.

As for who has access to footage, MPD Deputy Chief Travis Glampe said it’s limited to people shown in videos. The public, however, can request to see footage if an officer causes someone “substantial bodily harm,” under a new law recently signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.