By the end of the year, all Stillwater police officers will be issued body-worn cameras for recording interactions with the public and documenting evidence in cases.
Police Chief John Gannaway presented the department’s body-worn camera policy to the city council Aug. 15, and will soon begin a pilot program with five officers using the cameras. Gannaway expects the pilot to be complete in a few months, with department-wide implementation of body-worn cameras soon after.
According to Gannaway, using the cameras will not only help document evidence, but will also provide accountability, increase transparency and potentially limit the city’s liability.
“We have nothing to hide,” Gannway said. “It protects the officers and the community.”
Based on the policy adopted by the department, officers should activate the cameras during:
• all enforcement and investigative contacts,
• traffic stops, including stranded motorist assistance,
• self-initiated activity in which a member would normally notify the 911 communications center
• and any other contact that become adversarial after the initial contact in a situation that would not otherwise require recording.
“Almost every type of activity that we do, the cameras will be activated,” Gannaway said.
Officers do have discretion to stop recording an interaction to respect privacy “whenever it reasonably appears to the member that such privacy may outweigh any legitimate law enforcement interest in recording.”
Officers are also allowed to review recordings when writing their reports, except in the cases of critical incidents.
“If it’s a critical incident, say officer-involved shooting, then we’ll follow the BCA [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] guidelines,” Gannaway told The Gazette. “Right now they prefer that the officers do not review the video.”
The city council pushed back slightly on possible ambiguities in the policy, such as officer discretion in turning off cameras.
Councilmember Tom Weidner asked under what circumstances officers might turn off their cameras and what benefit there is to allowing such discretion.
Gannaway said officers need to leave their cameras on until a situation has been resolved and the evidence documented.
“We’re just giving them the option of having the ability to turn it off, so if it just turns into, ‘How’d the Twins do last night?’ the public doesn’t need to see that,” he said. “It serves no law enforcement purpose. … Most [officers] probably will just keep it on until they clear the call, but we want to give them that option. Maybe it’s something sensitive that’s not evidentiary in any way.”
Gannaway also said officers sometimes deal with people at their worst.
“They’re victims of crimes,” he said. “Their house is a mess and the officer is talking to them. So we’re giving [officers] that option, they can turn the camera off.”
Councilmember Mike Polehna suggested the policy needed to be more definite, using words like “shall” and “will” instead of “should.”
Gannaway said the final policy has been changed to say the recorders “shall be activated” in the situations outlined.
The department will use the same body-worn camera system adopted by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office this year. Created by California-based Visual Labs, Inc., the software system that turns heavy-duty Android phones into all-in-one video recorders, phones and GPS units. The phones are military grade and sit in a rubberized, military-grade holder, typically worn in a chest pouch. Data is stored in the Microsoft Government Cloud.
The city of Stillwater plans to receive approximately 24 phones, Gannaway said, and will assign one to each officer. They are Kyocera DuraForce Pro phones, the successor to the model used by the sheriff’s office. Under a one-year contract, the cost for the Visual Labs package is $40 per month for each phone. With a two-year contract, the cost is $37.50 per month per phone.
In addition to the sheriff’s office, the city of Bayport began using body-worn cameras this year, and Oak Park Heights has been using them since April 2016.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]
Correction: This story has been edited to reflect the correct model of the phones being issued to the Stillwater Police Department.