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Woodbury Police may get body cameras

Woodbury Police may be wearing body cameras as early as next year.

Woodbury Public Safety Officials unveiled plans Wednesday to roll out body cameras to all 70 of its officers by 2018. Pending city council approval, the department would join more than 40 other Minnesota agencies that are moving to equip officers with the technology.

"We know it's in our future," said Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague. "There's going to be body cam on every cop around."

Vague said he hopes to begin a $12,000 pilot program next spring to test eight cameras on different officers.

At about $165,000 for the entire project, much of the costs will be used for hardware, cameras and hiring an employee to manage the data. The costs were not included in the 2017 proposed budget. Instead, the department will ask city council to amend next year’s budget to fund the program.

The department has been cautiously waiting and observing cities like Duluth and Burnsville -- who are among the first to implement body cameras -- before moving ahead with its own program.

Several other police departments around the state are also making similar moves.

According to a December Legislative survey, 82 percent of Minnesota police agencies said they intend to deploy body camera programs in the next five years.

Some departments have been uneasy about wearing body cameras while on duty in the past.

Vague pointed to cities like Boston where its union voiced strong opposition to the use of the technology, but said in Woodbury officers overall have voiced support for the the program.

"It's kind of indicative of this department. Officers see the value and they want their good work to be documented," Vague said.

Public safety officials said they were waiting for state officials to pass laws on body camera practices amid hot debates between lawmakers and advocates over privacy and transparency issues.

In May, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law policies that made police footage non-public information, except in cases involving force or when an officer discharges a weapon. The footage in those instance would be made public following an investigation.

A person can also request footage if they are filmed or recorded, but the footage would be redacted if more than one person is filmed and does not consent to its release.

Those laws took effect last month.

Council Member Paul Rebholz said that although he supports the project, the process of reviewing requested footage may have uncertain future should the laws get challenged.  “This redaction stuff is really becoming a huge unknown, but it is what it is,” he said.

City Administrator Clinton Gridley speculated that there will likely be future challenges to the state’s policy, which could require police departments to revamp own policies.

“I feel we’ll be defending the law,” Gridley said.

Public safety officials expect to have a version of its policy by the end of the year, which will be followed by a public comment period before beginning the pilot program.

Vague said he plans to further discuss with the pilot program’s results in July with the city council and will ask city council to amend next year’s budget.

"We're being cautious, but there are many steps to doing this right," he said.