Cambridge purchases body cameras for police department

While there hasn’t as of yet been a major incident calling for them, the Cambridge Police Department is filling what has been a high priority for law enforcement and purchasing body cameras for each of their officers.

“The purchase of body-worn cameras and their implementation has been on the (city’s) long-range plan for a number of years - at least three or four,” Cambridge Police Chief Todd Schuster told the city council during their Jan. 19 meeting. “And its implementation was scheduled to take place in 2021.”

With the unanimous approval from the council, the city will purchase 16 body cameras, which will be rotated between the officers on duty. The cost of the cameras, plus batteries, charging docks, and storage software is $29,805, which is exactly what was budgeted for, according to Schuster.

Additionally, the department will purchase a new server that is large enough to hold all of the anticipated data from the cameras. The cost of the server, along with other associated costs brings the total expenditure to $62,132. Schuster admitted to the council he was originally unaware of the need to purchase a new server. However, he said he was willing to use budget money that was originally earmarked for the purchase of a new squad car to make up for the cost overage.

“With the age and condition of the vehicles in our fleet, it will not be a detriment in any way,” he said.

Body camera policy

In addition to purchasing the cameras, the city is required to implement a written policy for the use of the cameras. That policy must be made public, with an opportunity for the public to comment on the policy during a public hearing, which was also held during the Jan. 19 meeting.

While nobody spoke during the hearing, Schuster did read into record two emails he received on the topic. The first encouraged the constant use of the cameras, and the releasing of video to the public “even if it contradicts the officers’ report of the incident.” The other email simply asked how the city was paying for the cameras.

According to the official policy approved by the council, “this policy is not intended to describe every possible situation in which the recorder should be used, although there are many situations where its use is appropriate. Members (officers) should activate the recorder any time the member believes it would be appropriate or valuable to record an incident.”

The policy goes on to list four specific situations where it is recommended the cameras be activated:

a. All enforcement and investigative contacts including stops and field interview situations.

b. Traffic stops including, but not limited to, traffic violations, stranded motorist assistance and all crime interdiction stops.

c. Self-initiated activity in which a member would normally notify the Dispatch Center.

d. Any other contact that becomes adversarial after the initial contact in a situation that would not otherwise require recording.

“Their use is intended to enhance the mission of the department by documenting contacts between members of the department and the public, while balancing demands of accountability, transparency and privacy concerns.”

The policy does go on to say that “members should remain sensitive to the dignity of all individuals being recorded and exercise sound discretion to respect privacy by discontinuing recording whenever it reasonably appears that such privacy may outweigh any legitimate law enforcement interest in recording.”

The policy also states the cameras should be worn “in a conspicuous manner, or otherwise notify persons that they are being recorded, whenever reasonably practicable.”

Release of video footage

According to the policy, the video footage is considered nonpublic data. The officer making the recording may use it “as a resource” when filling out their reports. Also supervisors are able to view the recordings in order to review the officer’s performance. Video footage may be obtained by any active prosecuting attorney, along with any person captured in the recording. Any other requests for the release of videos “shall be processed in accordance with the Records Maintenance and Release Policy.”

“This policy was mostly written by Lexipol,” Schuster said. “I also took a lot of the League of Minnesota Cities’ model policy and incorporated a lot of their language into this as well.”

The entire policy can be found on the city’s website by going to ci.cambridge.mn.us/your-government/departments/police.

Odds and ends

In other council action, the council:

Announced the 2021 Summer Concert Series lineup. The first concert will be in City Park on June 3, featuring “Ole Olson and Friends.” On June 10, “Chmeilewski Funtime Band” will perform at City Park. “Lolos Ghost” will perform downtown on June 17 as part of the Discover Downtown’s “Third Thursday” event. “High 48s” will perform at City Park on June 24, followed by “Devon Worley” on July 8. The popular “Rockin’ Hollywoods” will perform downtown on July 15. The series will conclude on July 29 with “Jonah & the Whales” in City Park. 

Appointed Joe Morin to the Planning Commission.

Approved by a 4-1 vote to proceed with an application for an East Central Energy Grant for an Electric Vehicle Charging Station, which would be located in City Park. Council Member Bob Shogren voted nay, citing he didn’t think the city should implement something that might be in direct competition with a private business.

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