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All Rochester police officers will soon be wearing body cameras

All Rochester police officers will soon be wearing body cameras

Local police officers are just weeks away from wearing body cameras.

The Rochester Police Policy Oversight Commission this week adopted a new policy regulating the department's use of mobile cameras. The commission spent four months discussing the policy and listening to the public, as well as officers.

Police Chief Roger Peterson said the department will implement a pilot program within the next week or two. Twelve officers will test the cameras before the devices are deployed department-wide. 

"We want to make sure the cameras are functioning like they're supposed to, that we don't have any hardware or software issues, and that they work as expected," Peterson said in an interview Thursday with the Med City Beat.

Assuming there are no issues, the pilot program won't last long, meaning all officers could be wearing the cameras by the end of November. About three dozen cities in Minnesota, including Minneapolis and Duluth, already use body cameras in some way.

The Rochester City Council in June approved the purchase of 100 body cameras for the police department at a cost of about $87,000. However, the department wanted the newly-formed oversight commission to develop a policy before the technology was implemented.

Peterson said the policy adopted by the commission is not perfect, but the "best we could do given the current legal status." It requires any video showing officer misconduct to be held onto for six years, while other videos will be kept for just two months.

Officers will be tasked with turning the cameras on and off, depending on the circumstance.

"If they are talking to somebody on the sidewalk about a call for service, then the camera will probably be on," said Peterson. "But if they go to somebody's house where there might be a medical situation, or in a case where we need to be sensitive, they probably won't be [turned on]."

Peterson said ideally the cameras would always be on. But under Minnesota's Minnesota Data Practices Act, just about all of the recorded footage is considered public, meaning anyone could just request the video and post it to YouTube

"Frankly, its not a great policy because it's built on what isn't great law," Peterson said. "It would be much better with a legislative fix to say that if there was an expectation of privacy that the data is private; not that it doesn't exist."

Peterson said he would like to see the state Legislature pass a bill next session that would allow the department to keep video private, meaning only the individuals involved would have access to the recordings unless an officer used a dangerous weapon or seriously injured someone.

"We would be able to record more of those interactions that were private because we're able to keep it private," he said.

The Olmsted County Sheriff's Department is also interested in purchasing body cameras for its officers. Sheriff Kevin Torgerson is expected to make a formal request for the new technology on Nov. 3.


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(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)

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