3 Minneapolis council members tout personal police cameras but bypass public safety personnel

MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
City Council Members Cam Gordon, Betsy Hodges and Gary Schiff announced Thursday that they had found $25,000 in the 2013 budget for a pilot program to equip police officers with 25 video cameras.

Three Minneapolis City Council members have decided it is time for the city to purchase body cameras for police officers, even though the police chief isn’t ready to establish such a program.

“She [Chief Janee Harteau] is in the research process only,” said Cyndi Barrington, police department spokeswoman, who points out that a body camera program extends far beyond merely clipping the camera onto an officer. “We’re not ready.”

The council members hosted a Thursday news conference to announce purchase plans without any involvement from the police department or Don Samuels, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee.

Without the public safety experts in the room, the event seemed to be just another publicity opportunity for someone running for mayor.

So their public safety message was diluted when the three council members — Gary Schiff, Cam Gordon and Betsy Hodges, who is running for mayor — stood in front of the cameras to announce they had found $25,000 in the 2013 budget for a pilot program to equip police officers with 25 video cameras.

There was no police chief there to talk about how wonderful these cameras might be or how useless. She was out of town at a meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and KARE-TV is reporting that Harteau had asked Hodges to postpone the announcement. And there are plenty of other people on Harteau’s staff who could have spoken on this topic, but none of them were in the room.

The Public Safety Committee is chaired by Samuels, who is also running for mayor. According to Hodges, Samuels was invited but had a prior commitment.

Harteau, she said, talked about the cameras in response to a question during recent 2014 budget hearings before the Ways and Means/Budget Committee, which Hodges chairs.

After talking for nearly an hour about the department’s proposed $146.2 million budget and staffing needs, the chief spoke about the possible use of personal cameras for one minute and 23 seconds, according to the video achieves.

“I have been spending a considerable amount of time researching personal body cameras,” said Harteau at the beginning of her comments on the issue.

She goes on to talk about the importance of getting this done right: “I have been taking the lead on this because it is that important, that we really research it and do it right because it is something that is really comforting to all and another tool, but it can be an issue if it’s not worked out right.

“We need to have a plan,” said Harteau. “There are a lot of experts out there that have already been working on this. So I’m looking at best practices from the Police Executive Research Forum and others who have implemented this program.”

Any video collected by the cameras is considered potential evidence and, as such, comes under rather stringent rules for storage and access.

Hodges defended the decision to move ahead with the news conference without public safety representatives when she was asked whether this was just another news conference by a mayoral candidate.

“This is a budget initiative we’ve been talking about at the City Council for quite some time,” she responded. “It’s good policy. It’s something we’ve talked about in the Ways and Means/Budget Committee, brought up by the chief of police. It’s something my colleagues have been investigating for quite some time.”

Gordon noted: “I think it’s fully appropriate to say, ‘Here’s three council members who have a great idea and are taking this initiative,’ and now we want to build support without expecting city staff to line up before a vote of the council. Once the council acts on these kinds of things, that’s when we want to see department heads come forward.”

schiff
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Schiff models one of the cameras.

Schiff visited Rialto, Calif., last week to study police use of video cameras and said he was impressed by what he saw.

“The experience in Rialto show the most important statistic: a 60 percent drop in actual use of force by officers,” said Schiff, adding that the same city also saw an 88 percent drop in complaints against police officers. “That means the officers resolved the issue in another manner than force.”

“It can change the behavior of somebody who is pulled over,” said Gordon. “They’ll know they’re on camera, and they’ll be more reasonable and respectful.”

“If a police officer realizes that all their interactions are recorded — the words they say, what they’re doing is being recorded — I think their tendency is to try to look their best and think twice,” he said.

At this point, there is no date set for a pilot project, and there is no plan, or budget, to outfit all of the 569 city patrol officers with cameras.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 10/18/2013 - 11:58 am.

    Not a good look for Hodges

    Like the idea substantively, but pretty clearly a grab for media attention with a mayoral vote a few weeks away.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/18/2013 - 12:52 pm.

    This one is a no-brainer, just do it already !!

    Chief Harteau’s reluctance or foot-dragging can only be based on fear of the exposure, especially considering the judgements the city has paid due to police misconduct. But we could expect that this kind of evidence-gathering will temper police conduct, and has a very good chance of reducing those “bad cop” payouts.

    Start the program by imitating an existing, working model. THEN consider whether to seek an improvement or not.

    I seriously doubt that Harteau’s concern is based in an enthusiasm for her cops being on camera all the time !!

  3. Submitted by David Sandbeck on 10/18/2013 - 12:59 pm.

    Funny Stuff.

    I think the Chief should make them suffer and run for Mayor. The council members are good at spending money on a program no one wants.

    Who is going to volunteer to be among the 25? I bet they will make parking enforecment wear them!

    That is what I would do if I was Chief.

    • Submitted by Rachel Weisman on 10/18/2013 - 04:45 pm.

      A program no wants?

      Are you kidding? The facts show that in communities where this has been implemented have lowered the number of complaints of police abuse either because the police act accordingly or they have the proof they need to fight them. Let’s save the city from the big payouts due to police misconduct.

  4. Submitted by Pat McGee on 10/18/2013 - 01:04 pm.

    Seemed like a stunt because it was…

    A project like this requires coordination with mulitple city departments to ensure it works. How will the data be stored? How will requests for video retrieval be handled? Who can get copies of the videos and under what circumstances? How long must the evidence be retained? How do you secure it and back it up? How do you maintain it all? And how do you pay for all that?

    This press conference was not leadership. It was Hodges first shot at removing Harteau.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/18/2013 - 02:47 pm.

      “How do you pay for all that?”

      At least in part, with the savings on the city’s payouts for police excesses it is reasonable to expect.

      People in Minneapolis will support an increased line item expense for such a program. They mistrust the police, ESPECIALLY people of color, and this would be an extra protection for everyone. No cop with nothing to hide should be opposed, LEAST OF ALL the chief.

      As to your other questions, they certainly need to be addressed. But presumably they have ALREADY been addressed where cameras are in use right now. At startup, we can simply mimic what is being done in those jurisdictions, unless there is compelling reason to make a modification.

      I agree this press conference was a political stunt, but as one of my co-workers said once, even a big old pig, rooting around in the ground, comes up with a truffle now and again.

      So even though Ms. Hodges et. al. may be conflicted by self-promotion, it’s still a very good idea.

  5. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 10/18/2013 - 01:27 pm.

    Cameras are already being used by rank and file officers. I had grand jury duty some years ago, and one case involving an officer was aided by the officer activating a camera he purchased on his own. The video and audio it provided were very helpful, and I gaurentee that officer will never go on duty without the camera. I suspect he’s not the only one ahead of his department.

  6. Submitted by Leonard Foonimin on 10/18/2013 - 03:20 pm.

    How about this

    as an idea, I will strongly support putting cameras on the cops as soon as we also put cameras that can’t be turned off on the chests of all elected officials, or those that are running for office.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 10/18/2013 - 05:52 pm.

    Finally! An issue in the mayoral campaign that’s specific, and that has to do with the mayor’s responsibility for appointing and supervising the police chief!

    One of Minneapolis’s biggest problems is the thumpers among our cops! Many of them racist thumpers, but others equal-opportunity thumpers. They never get disciplined, and frequently taxpayers have to pay when they lose the civil suits filed against them.

    These three progressive Council Members are trying to find a way to control the thumpers and the shoot-firsters in Minneapolis’s Finest, and save a whole lot of money for taxpayers. Just because the police resist this, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try fitting 25 cops with cameras.

    An experiment. C’mon, Minneapolis Police! You can do this!

  8. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 10/19/2013 - 06:18 pm.

    No-brainer “NOT”

    All we need is 1 person that looks that is not suppose to and we have another “Drivers License” law suit about invasion of privacy, Amazing on how all these folks are ling up for “do it already”, but the first time something goes wrong, will be the first in line to say, why didn’t they figure this out before they implemented it!

    The point is clear, some folks think and then act, others act and then try to think how to fix the mistakes, or blame someone else.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/20/2013 - 11:16 am.

      “1 person that looks that is not suppose to”

      Who is “not suppose to” ? Are the police to operate in a completely opaque environment, where the public cannot see what they are doing ? The private information of a public employee is a drastically different issue than the public performance of police duties by an officer. The employee in the first case has not surrendered her (apparently it’s nearly always a woman) right of privacy in her personal information, whereas a peace officer has no right of privacy as to the proper performance of the duties of office.

      I’d guess you’d line up with the chief, who I suspect is dragging her feet not for the cause of rigor, but because she wants to influence a new system in such a way that it gives her control over all information, and where others have access only when she feels like granting it.

      The matter of restrictions of access is an important, but secondary issue – though to you, it is apparently #1. Here we’re not concerned with looking up the personal information of some babe who happens to be a cop. Rather, it is to enable the public to closely observe the behavior of police so that they KNOW we’re watching, therefore it would be a pretty good idea to closely observe the law and the best deportment of a police officer. The chief should not be the only arbiter of who gets to watch the police do their work.

      The power of restriction of access should not be in the hands of the chief nor the police alone. It ought to be shared with other parties who can advocate for the public’s broader interest.

      So the matter of who is “not suppose to” see the product here goes to the heart of the matter.

      And BTW, a significant proportion of the illegal accesses of driver license info here in Minnesota is by the POLICE themselves !! (http://www.startribune.com/local/174052311.html)

      With cell phone cameras recording police activity all the time, do you think these recordings should be subject to prior restraint, too ?

      Other jurisdictions have adopted this best practice. As I suggested above, surely we can save a lot of time and money if we pick the best of these systems and mimic it, reserving the right to modify parts of it where we feel compelled to do so. It’s rather like a “buy or build” choice. We can have more confidence in a system already proven. It should cost less and should be more rapidly implemented.

      Your characterization of proponents as advocating blind, thoughtless blundering reflects more about you as subject rather than your object, ad hominem at its worst. Surely you can do better.

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