Inver Grove Heights begins discussion about police body cameras

Inver Grove Heights became one of the latest cities on Aug. 6 to begin the conversation about using police-worn body cameras. 

Police Chief Paul Schnell said the department currently utilizes body-worn microphones and squad car cameras, but the technology and the department’s way of storing the data collected is becoming outdated. 

At the Aug. 6 Inver Grove Heights City Council meeting, Schnell presented to the council research the department has done so far on making a possible switch to body cameras.

 

Outdate technology

Schnell said that for several years, the city has been putting away money as part of a plan to eventually replace the squad cameras. 

“As you know, all of the department’s patrol squads have mounted patrol cameras that both photograph or take video from outside the windshield, as well as in the passenger compartment in the back seat,” he said.

This system is at the end of its life, Schnell said. In some cases, there’s been trouble finding replacement parts for the body microphones that officers wear, which integrate with the squad camera system.

Schnell said video obtained from the cameras has become integral for the prosecution of some cases, but it takes up a lot of storage space.

As part of camera replacement budget planning over the past several years, Schnell said roughly $75,000 has been put aside. The city IT department, in the 2018 budget, was planning on purchasing a new $60,000 upgraded server that would be strictly for the management of the squad camera data currently being collected.

Schnell said the department began to look at replacing the squad camera system, and in the process of doing so, learned a number of things. 

“The last thing we felt we wanted to do was replace that system and have to purchase body microphones, when we may look at body cameras in another year or two,” he said.

 

Making the switch

Schnell said money is available for the department to implement a body-worn camera program at the same time it puts in place a replacement squad camera program.

This would include purchasing hardware and buying data storage through 2019. 

However, moving forward would create base-level costs of approximately $70,000 annually in 2020 and beyond, due to the large amount of data needing to be stored and the licensing that goes along with systems for managing it.

Schnell said using body cameras would have benefits for both the city and county attorney, because they would be able to access the data using the same system.

The department would move to storing all digital evidence on the cloud, which Schnell said is the direction many government entities are moving. 

There’s state statute that requires the department to have a policy that governs the use of body worn cameras, and a draft policy was sent to all members of the department and the unions, as well as both the county and city attorney offices, for feedback.

“We are in a place where we believe we could publish a draft model policy for the City of Inver Grove Heights, related specifically to body cameras, during late this month or very early in the month of September,” Schnell said. 

This model policy would be published on the city website. A public input session would be held in October before the council. At the council meeting after that session, a final policy draft could be brought back before the council. 

Schnell said the department would look to implement the policy in November 2018. 

 

‘That next big incident’

Council member Paul Hark asked if the city would be locked into a particular vendor that would hold the data. 

Schnell said the department has talked with a couple different providers while looking into replacing squad cameras. Typically, the city and department would sign a five-year contract with any given vendor.

The city owns all the data, Schnell said, and if at the end of the five-year contract the city wanted out, it would need to find a new data storage company.

Schnell said the department is looking for as much public input on body cameras as possible, and that the devices are becoming an evermore important part of police work, as evidenced by the recent police killing of a man in Minneapolis and how body camera footage played a role in the quick decision not to criminally charge the officers involved.

“It’s depending on when that next big incident happens in your community,” Schnell said. “That’s the thing I think I would much rather be ahead of, than behind.” 

Council members said the public comment gathering process on body cameras should be deliberate. A public input session could be held during a council meeting in October. 

 

 – Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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