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Public Safety Chairman Don Samuels against early plan to test police personal cameras

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.

It appears Minneapolis will not be moving ahead soon with a plan to purchase personal video cameras for police officers, despite a proposal for a test project last week by three Minneapolis City Council members.

The move does not yet have the blessing of Police Chief Janee Harteau, who is still researching the use of the cameras and storage issues surrounding the evidence they collect.

The news conference to announce the purchase of 25 video cameras was hosted by Council Member Betsy Hodges, who is running for mayor, and colleagues Cam Gordon and Gary Schiff.

Missing from the announcement were the police chief, Mayor R.T. Rybak and Council Member Don Samuels, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee and who also is running for mayor.

The safety committee’s agenda, posted for Wednesday’s meeting, does not include discussion of the personal video cameras, as was announced during the news conference.

“Council Member Gary Schiff, in fact, asked me to put it on the agenda, and I told him I would speak to the chief to see if she was ready for it to be on the agenda,” said Samuels. “It’s not on the agenda.”

Samuels said he was invited by Hodges to participate in the news conference a few hours before it was scheduled to begin, and when he asked if the mayor and police chief would be there, he was told no.

He says he is surprised by the urgency to move ahead.

“It seemed to me to be hurried, so I questioned the wisdom of haste,” Samuels said. When he asked Hodges why she was moving so quickly, “Nothing she said convinced me that it was necessary to be that hasty, and I told her that and that I thought it was inappropriate,” he said.

Samuels said he had a prior commitment and decided to keep to his schedule and not attend the news conference.

Don Samuels
MinnPost photo by Karen BorosDon Samuels

MinnPost asked Hodges for her reaction, but a staffer said she would have no comment on the development.

Because of the sensitive nature of some encounters civilians have with police officers, the rules for use of the video cameras need to be firmly in place before they are in use. Samuels said this is particularly true in cases involving children, domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“This could potentially become evidence in a case, so how long do you keep it, who keeps it and who gets to watch it?” asked Samuels, who compared the technology issues to the data-practices problems encountered when license plate readers were a new tool for law enforcement.

Samuels said Harteau told him she is very concerned about the data-practices issues involving the use of personal cameras. She also told him she was concerned about the desire by some to move ahead quickly.

“It becomes embarrassing for the city when a cost is incurred because we did not follow a careful process,” said Samuels. “If this were to become the way to do things, no matter how important or significant it is, it would be pretty chaotic at City Hall.”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/21/2013 - 05:46 pm.

    Where was all that caution when the Vikings stadium…

    …vote was taken, Mr. Samuels ?

    Is it belaboring the obvious to state that the entire Vikings stadium matter was a rush job ? Did you study, weigh, and consider the financing scheme, Mr. Samuels ? Did you take the time and effort to look into the background of the Wilfs ?

    “It becomes embarrassing for the city when a cost is incurred because we did not follow a careful process,” said Samuels.

    And: “…I questioned the wisdom of haste,” Samuels said.

    Don Samuels claim that he is oh-so-careful in his decisions is belied by his previous actions. If he had brought any of that care to the Vikings stadium vote, we wouldn’t be looking at the debacle that has happened.

    As far as I’m concerned, that vote disqualified him as a candidate for mayor. What other nonsense is this guy capable of ?

  2. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 10/21/2013 - 04:58 pm.

    At the risk of being repetetive from another coulmn: officers in the Minneapolis PD are already using these cameras. Video from them has been used in judical proceedings. So the logistics of how to store and view the video have presumably been addressed for those cases.

    As an FYI— the tasers that officers carry automatically record video (and I think audio too) when they are deployed- so again, this notion of “we can’t use them until we know how to handle the data” ring false– take whatever policy exisits for the taser video, and apply it to the personal cameras. Done.

    • Submitted by Pat McGee on 10/22/2013 - 08:31 am.

      Personal cams already in use?

      Please cite your sources. MPD uses dash cams, but I know of no one who has a personal body camera in use.

      Also different systems use different technologies and storage and retrieval technology. Answering the questions for one system, doesn’t mean they are answered for a different system–especially if equipment has to be procured. As, for the laws that apply. They are many and complex. There is no easy copy and paste to apply for this.

      • Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 10/22/2013 - 01:27 pm.

        I was on jury duty. Saw video from such a camera introduced as evidence (Minneapolis PD officer). It recorded color video and audio. The officer purchased and used this on his own, and I assume he will never be without it, given that it corroborated his story (and it matched up with the taser video).

      • Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 10/22/2013 - 03:13 pm.

        Hmm, thought I had replied, but may have been lost via phone. I watched video from such a camera while on jury duty. Was a Minneapolis officer, who had purchased camera out-of-pocket. It provided video and audio that corroborated his version of events (along with taser video). I suspect that officer will never go on duty without it. I highly doubt that this episode happened to the only Minneapolis cop carrying such a camera– but I have no idea how widespread the practice is. Would be an interesting story for a reporter to pursue– see how far ahead of official policy rank-and-file officers are.

  3. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 10/22/2013 - 11:58 am.

    The real issue

    The cameras are in use in other cities– including in Minnesota (meaning the same data practices laws) –which of course have domestic abuse cases and children. So the argument about data policy is likely a smokescreen.

    The choice presented to Mayoral candidates Samuels and Hodges is as follows. On one hand, a likely benefit (based on data from other cities) would be improving police-citizen interactions, reducing police misconduct, and proving police misconduct when it occurs for the purposes of better employee management and control. On the other hand, there could very well be a potential cost to city taxpayers (and the budget) due to the proof of misconduct being more available to successfully defeat the city in lawsuits. So what should the policy be? Is the priority for a city leader the improvement of police practices or protection of taxpayers — is it better to keep our eyes blind and hold down lawsuit costs? City attorneys who want to win cases, and politicians who want to limit the budgetary impact from police misconduct liability (or support their police union friends) will opt for the latter. But politicians more sensitive to improving the police work force and citizen encounters, or who want police management to have better tools to determine which allegations of misconduct are factual, will find much to like in cameras.

    Hodges and Samuels appear to have different priorities. But I’m not convinced the latter is being honest about the reasons for his choice.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/22/2013 - 01:06 pm.

      “Samuels…reasons for his choice.”

      Agree.

      I’m impressed with the potential for improving police conduct where it needs it, especially in communities of color, where the police are simply not trusted – in part because of what presently goes on unobserved.

      This is another way to approach mitigating payouts by the city for police misconduct – use this tool to improve the force.

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