City Council may accept funding for body cams

The University of Minnesota Police Department does not plan to use the technology.

Nick Wicker

Minneapolis police could begin wearing body cameras while patrolling area neighborhoods, stirring debate among city leaders over whether the addition would impede on residents’ privacy.
 
A Minneapolis committee voted Monday to accept a $600,000 Department of Justice grant — pending City Council approval 
 
Friday — to distribute body cameras to police officers citywide. Minneapolis officials would have to match the grant in its 2016 budget proposal to receive DOJ support.
 
MPD officers tested the cameras during a trial run in late 2014, checking the cameras’ battery life, video and audio quality.
 
Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon said the grant is enough to start the program, but it won’t cover ongoing department expenses like storage fees and the salaries of new employees designated to taking care of the cameras.
 
Still, he said body cameras increase transparency between police and the public, and help resolve complaints and disputes faster.
 
“If there is a police officer who has done some kind of misconduct or something, then that officer and the city can be held accountable,” Gordon said. “But also we can just get to the truth faster about other incidents.” 
 
He said he hopes other departments, like the University of Minnesota Police and Metro Transit Police, will adopt similar measures if the program goes smoothly in Minneapolis. 
 
As of now, the University of Minnesota Police Department has no plans to follow suit. 
 
University Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said adopting the measure might make it necessary to change parts of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, which requires data to be shared with the public. 
 
If left alone, the law would require departments to publicize any requested videos obtained by police body cameras, Miner said, forcing officers to spend hours blurring out faces and other identifying information. 
 
“Body cameras are worn on officers, and officers walk into residence hall rooms,” Miner said. “They walk into homes. They walk into other areas where people have sort of an expectation of privacy.” 
 
University police do, however, monitor actions in public with cameras in all of their patrol vehicles, Miner said. 
 
Though the cameras could build trust of officers in urban areas, they might strain relations in places that generally have better interactions with police, University criminal law professor JaneAnne Murray said.
 
“It introduces an adversarial component immediately into the citizen-police encounter,” Murray said. “Most of these encounters don’t result in an arrest or even an investigation.”
 
But police relations could worsen, she said, if wearing the cameras makes officers feel a need to arrest or cite more people for minor offenses, which she said could increase racial disparities.
 
“They may cause police officers to second guess their discretion and essentially operate by-the-book at all times,” she said.
 
Murray said she thinks police should be allowed to turn off their cameras when entering private residences.
 
“Much of the policing that we’re concerned about and much of the policing that has ended up in the headlines has occurred on public streets,” she said. 
 
Blarney Pub and Grill Owner and Dinkytown Business Alliance President Mike Mulrooney said he supports the city’s plan to adopt body cameras. 
 
He said he wasn’t worried about his pub being shown on public records of police encounters, because the people being recorded are in a public setting.
 
“I think that it only helps to benefit the police and the police department and the officers,” Mulrooney said.