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Police roll out body camera pilot program

Woodbury Officer Caitlin Jaworski attaches her body camera to her right pocket. The cameras automatically begin recording when an officer turns on the car's emergency lights. Photo by Youssef Rddad1 / 2
Woodbury Public Safety recently bought eight WatchGuard body cameras to test on different police officers for a pilot program. Photo by Youssef Rddad2 / 2

When police officer Caitlin Jaworski starts her shift, she grabs one of eight cameras sitting on a recharging rack in the basement of the Woodbury Public Safety building and attaches it to her right shirt pocket.

Because she wears 25 pounds in gear on her belt already, the camera doesn't interfere much with as she goes about her regular duties. "I don't even really notice it," Jaworski said.

She's among the handful of Woodbury's police officers who recently began wearing body cameras as part of the pilot program.

After months of research and public feedback last year, the pilot program will see the department test cameras on 16 patrol officers over two shifts in the coming months.

By next year, the department plans to equip all 70 Woodbury officers with the technology, pending the city council's approval for project funding. Detectives may also use the cameras while, for example, executing search warrants.

Numerous Minnesota departments have begun using the technology, including the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which launched its body camera program earlier the year.

According to city estimates, the full body camera program is expected to be close to $165,000, with a large part of the costs coming from storing and managing the data.

That amount includes roughly $10,000 used to purchase eight WatchGuard cameras and other gear last month for the pilot program.

So far, the department hasn't run into any major issues with using the cameras, said Woodbury Cmdr. John Altman.

"This company has pretty much delivered on everything they promised," he said.

The Woodbury department opted to use the WatchGuard body cameras mainly because they work together with the dashboard cameras inside Woodbury's squad cars.

When an officers like Jaworski turn on her emergency lights, both the body camera and the dashboard camera begin recording.

The red light on the black, square-shaped camera also indicates the camera is recording. For each recording Jaworski makes, she also has to note the purpose of the recording.

That's according to the department's draft policy, which the department leaders unveiled last year.

Woodbury Police Chief Lee Vague has said officers have generally expressed support for the program to him, but they have voiced desires for clearer policy guidelines for when they should record.

According to the draft policy, officers wearing cameras are required to activate them when responding to certain service calls, or when a person becomes adversarial or asks to be recorded. Arrests, searches and pursuits are also noted in the policy as requirements.

At the end of Jaworski's 10.5-hour shift, she drops her camera onto a charging dock, and the data is sent to police administrators who attach the recordings to police reports. They also determine whether the data should be kept longer than the mandatory 90-day retention period.

Woodbury Public Safety leaders plan to evaluate the pilot program's results before presenting their findings to the city council.

The department's draft policy and timeline for the project are available on the city of Woodbury's website.