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Woodbury council members voice support for body cameras, adding staffer

When police officer Caitlin Jaworski wears one of eight cameras the city of Woodbury purchased for its four-month pilot project in April 2017. The program equipped 16 officers with the camera, but City Council members said at an Aug. 16 workshop that they would support all officers wearing cameras during their shift. Youssef Rddad / RiverTown Multimedia.

A group of 16 Woodbury police officers logged more than 1,600 videos filmed by body-worn cameras since April, when a four-month pilot project to test the devices began.

The cameras, which officers turn on during interactions such as traffic stops, filmed an average of 10 videos per 10-hour shift, but one shift yielded more than 50 videos.

The department is recommending the addition of a new full-time administrative assistant to help review and manage potentially hundreds of hours worth of footage.

Public Safety spokeswoman Michelle Okada said during the Aug. 16 City Council workshop that the additional staffer would help the department navigate the additional data without interrupting the current pace of operations.

"We're hoping there will be efficiencies over the next few years that will absorb and increase in call load, but I don't want to say for the grand future what that would look like," she said.

The city council will decide at a future meeting whether to accept the department's recommendation to fully deploy the program, which would equip each of its 70 officers with a body camera.

The cost of the program totals more than $146,000 over two years.

Council member Christopher Burns said he feels the costs are necessary.

"It's rare that I vote to spend this kind of money," he said. "But I do think this is a great expenditure of our tax dollars and I commend all our officers for doing the work they needed to."

Council member Amy Scoggins said the department's work on the program ensured the potential implementation had been "explored completely and thoroughly."

The public safety department recently completed a final draft of its policies, outlining how body camera data is stored, who can review it and when police can see it.

"The biggest thing right now is working out when the officers could view the video when they're involved in a critical incident," Cmdr. Kris Mienert said.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill in 2016 that left "prior review" policies for officers at municipalities' discretion.

Meinert said Woodbury's policy would likely mirror that of the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which does not favor allowing officers an early view of the videos.

Woodbury Police Chief Lee Vague said he is happy with the program's timing and that Woodbury officers have so far supported wearing body cameras.

"We haven't been on the leading edge of this, but at the same time, we're excited to have these benefits," he said. "The officers want them, and it's going to be a nice way to enhance the public's trust we've worked so hard to achieve."