Park police poised to wear body cameras

A draft of the Park Board’s body camera policy is open for public comment

The MPD uses Taser's Axon Body 2 camera. Photo courtesy Taser

The few dozen of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s sworn police officers are likely to begin wearing body cameras later this year if the program gets public support.

The board’s police department recently opened a draft of its body-worn camera policy for public review. The policy, which is operationally similar to that of the City of Minneapolis, follows the city’s lead nearly a year after the Minneapolis Police Department rolled out its long-awaited body camera program.

“It was also important to watch the implementation rollout, particularly with MPD, so that we could learn from their process and that we weren’t spearheading or necessarily the innovator on body-worn cameras,” said Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto. “As a relatively small agency, we could learn from what some of the bigger agencies were doing.”

The Park Board has $45,000 in this year’s budget to contract with a body camera vendor to supply hardware for each of its 35 sworn police officers, about the same number of MPD officers who participated in the city’s 2014-2015 pilot program.

The program hinges on public reception, which Ohotto and park staff will be able to gauge through a comment period that ends later this spring. The program’s goal is to increase “accountability, better documentation and evidence, and a reduction in conduct complaints and applications of force.”

Support for the board’s program is likely given the city’s lead on the issue. A 2015 survey from the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission found that, of 530 people surveyed, 90 percent supported MPD’s use of body cameras. Ohotto said anecdotally that there is support for park police to wear the cameras.

Ohotto expects that park police officers will begin wearing the cameras by the end of the year. The board may eventually choose to expand the program to its roughly 20 park patrol agents, typically part-time staff who perform support duties and aspire to be sworn officers.

If the board moves ahead with the program, staff will begin negotiations with body camera vendors, which will be expected to supply the hardware, assist with data storage and provide the software necessary to manage the data.

The board’s current plan is to have a body camera program independent of the city. It’s possible the two agencies could collaborate if it would save money, Ohotto said, though it would raise issues on data management and access. MPD and the Minneapolis Park Police Department already work very closely as the board relies on MPD for support services and training.

The city has a five-year, $4 million contract with Axon, formerly known as Taser International, which allows them to buy the cameras, docking stations and storage. A MPD spokesman said the department has just under 600 cameras.

The current draft of the board’s policy on body camera is operationally like that of MPD, Ohotto said, because it’s important for people to have a general understanding of how body cameras will be used.

Minneapolis residents can view the draft policy online at the Minneapolis Park Police webpage and comment via a survey. The comment period closes June 20.

There will be a public hearing on the topic in May or June. Park police will also attend several community meetings to get input:

  • Friends of North Commons at North Commons Park on Monday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m.
  • MLK Legacy Council at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on Thursday, May 11 at 6:30 p.m.
  • East Phillips Improvement Coalition (EPIC) at East Phillips Park on Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m.
  • Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC) at Loring Park on Wednesday, May 17 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Logan Park Neighborhood Association (LPNA) at Logan Park on Wednesday, May 17 at 8 p.m.
  • Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA) at Powderhorn Park on Tuesday, May 23 at 8 p.m.