Reversing a previous decision, the St. Paul Police Department has decided that an application for federal help to equip its officers with body cameras is public after all.
The department had said that the application — part of an Obama administration initiative to pay half the costs of local body camera programs — was exempt from the Minnesota state Data Practices Act.
Thursday afternoon, however, department spokesman Sgt. Paul Paulos said it now thinks the application is a public document. “All I can say is we made a mistake,” Paulos said of the earlier decision.
The application does not include the dollar amount the city is requesting. Under the program, the city must cover half the costs of setting up the program and show that it has the capacity to pay for the program once the grant money is spent. St. Paul has 615 sworn police officers; the application envisions the purchase of 400 cameras in the first phase.
“The (St. Paul Police Department) believes that as the capital city of Minnesota we have an opportunity and responsibility to be a leader in this emerging technology and to be ambassadors for positive police and community relations,” the application states. “The SPPD believes that even the initial stages of a project like BWC’s (body worn cameras) can offer opportunities to gain and build trust amongst community shareholders.”
The application lays out an extensive outreach program to consult with people both inside the department and outside, including the NAACP, the ACLU and the police officers union. Particularly important to the process are direct stakeholders, including officers who will be asked to wear the cameras, community leaders, victim advocacy organizations, city officials, lawmakers, prosecutors, and the courts. (A survey is posted here.)
Next steps will be to continue looking at potential vendors and to develop a formal request for proposals. The department then expects to launch a testing period with some officers.
We will begin the training process for the initial users and supervisors of the BWC program with the ultimate goal of training the entire department in the use, policy, and procedures of the BWC program. We will develop and conduct training specific to police interactions which are recorded to educate and benefit all sworn personnel regardless of their assignment or use of BWC’s.
Police Commander Axel Henry will lead the body camera program. Also assigned will be Sgt. Jeff Stiff.
The application also notes that the department has been pretty successful in winning grants for its programs — $30 million over the last decade. And it says it has the support of Mayor Chris Coleman and the City Council. In February the council adopted a resolution directing the department to present a budget plan later this year to begin rolling out cameras in 2016. Coleman rejected that resolution by returning it without his signature. At the time, however, he said he and the department were pursuing a body camera program. That was before the Obama announcement.
The program was announced by Obama on Dec. 1 at a White House conference convened in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer. Obama’s initial $75 million program within the Bureau of Justice Assistance program has shrunk to $20 million. The bureau expects to award money to 50 departments across the country, with one-third going to smaller departments.
The department initially cited two exemptions under state law. The first exempts “security information,” which is defined as data “likely to substantially jeopardize the security of information, possessions, individuals or property against theft, tampering, improper use, attempted escape, illegal disclosure, trespass, or physical injury.” The second cited exemption, this one covering the state’s grant application process, blocks release of grant applications until final decisions are made. The second exemption does not apply to federal grant applications.
Also on Thursday the Minneapolis Police Department decided that its application was a public document. Unlike St. Paul, Minneapolis did not initially decide the federal grant documents were non-disclosable but instead did not make the decision until this week. Minneapolis projects a program with 616 cameras plus data storage and management, with a budgeted $1.2 million. (The city will hold its third public listening session at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 25, at the Minneapolis Adult Education Center, Room 140, 2125 East Lake St.)
A pilot program has been completed and the city wants to pursue a full rollout by February 2016. The program was delayed only so the city would not get so far ahead in its plans that it would not be eligible for the 50 percent federal match.