UMN omits bodycams from budget request

The University of Minnesota Police Department will not ask for funding for body cameras in its upcoming budget request.

Body cameras sit in a charging cradle.

Photo courtesy of UMPD

Body cameras sit in a charging cradle.

by Mohamed Ibrahim

The University of Minnesota won’t follow the City of Minneapolis’ example in requiring its officers to wear body cameras. 

After a two-year review period, the University of Minnesota Police Department has decided not to seek funding for bodycams in its upcoming budget request. University administrators cited sufficient existing infrastructure and privacy concerns as reasons not to ask for the funding. 

“Body worn cameras have not been included in the latest budget request … due to other core departmental and unit needs,” Mike Berthelsen, vice president of University Services, said in an email.

The department first tested bodycams over a two-month period in summer 2017 with funding from the University’s budget. UMPD Chief Matt Clark said the testing period helped the department work out the logistics of using the bodycams. 

“The officers that wore them even said that they were more than happy to have them on,” Clark said. “The way I’ve always taught policing is just assume you’re on camera [and] be okay with it. There shouldn’t be anything you do that shouldn’t be recorded.”

Clark said all police interactions are already recorded by the 4,000 surveillance cameras around campus and camera systems in UMPD squad cars. The department’s main concern with using the equipment was protecting the privacy of citizens, he said.

“Other than that, I have no problem filming any of the things the officers do,” Clark said. “I just am also very sensitive to our students, faculty and staff being filmed at times that it’s kind of difficult for them.”

Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality said while body cameras can help departments review cases internally, they don’t increase public accountability. Legislation enacted by the state in August 2016 deemed most police bodycam footage as nonpublic data. 

“This is really problematic because for groups like ours that try to hold police accountable and to understand what’s happening with police, we would want to see body camera footage,” Gross said.

The Minneapolis Police Department began using bodycams in 2015 with a nationwide $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. An initial audit of the program by the City of Minneapolis in 2017 showed officers repeatedly failing to turn on the cameras, prompting an overhaul in the policy that required bodycams be turned on for every call.

“In situations where body camera footage clearly shows wrongdoing, there’s been no efforts to hold those police officers accountable,” Gross said. “What’s the point of gathering the data unless you plan to actually use it?”

While not included in this year’s budget, funding for UMPD bodycams will remain in consideration for the future budget requests, according to Berthelsen. The department’s budget will be finalized in June.