Park police to begin rolling out body cameras

Officers with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are wrapping up training in preparation for the rollout of nearly three-dozen body cameras.

Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto said about 32 sworn park police officers will begin wearing body cameras in January.

The program follows the Minneapolis Police Department’s rollout of body-worn cameras, which officers have used in each of the city’s precincts for the past year.

“We’re able to observe and learn from them [and the] mistakes and lessons that they’ve already tackled along the way,” he said. “It’s much easier to look and lean on to Minneapolis after they’ve already had this implemented for more than a year.”

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The Park Board is authorized to have up to 35 cameras, which are meant to increase transparency and accountability among police departments. The park system’s 33 sworn officers — Ohotto included, although he said he doesn’t do much patrol work — are currently training with police staff and the board’s contractor, Axon. The camera manufacturer is the same vendor used by MPD.

Ohotto said they have two vacancies they’re looking to fill. Once those are filed, the new officers will begin training with the body cameras.Earlier this fall commissioners approved a five-year contract with Axon (formerly known as Taser) for the camera hardware, data storage, data management software and maintenance. The $181,000 agreement costs the board roughly $30,000 each year, in addition to the upfront price of the hardware and contingency costs.

Park police will store data collected by the cameras independently from MPD, but Ohotto said they would occasionally share data with their partner agency. The Park Board relies on MPD for secondary investigative work on the most serious and complex crimes that happen in its parks.

Unlike the Minneapolis officers, Ohotto said, park police won’t have a pilot before fully implementing the program, which is why the Park Board waited until now to use body cameras. Like any new innovation, Ohotto said, rolling out the devices will involve lessons and mistakes.

“I think anytime you have a new program there will be some of those things that happen,” he said.