NEW ULM — The New Ulm Police Department is drafting a policy for body-worn camera use and shopping for equipment after it received a Bureau of Justice Assistance grant to cover the cost of cameras.
On Monday, the department held a public forum right after the city's Human Rights Commission meeting to ask and answer questions about body camera use. Commander Dave Borchert said the department wanted to hear from residents and be as transparent as possible.
"If you know my boss, Chief Myron Wieland, he's always very conscious about getting information from the public," said Borchert.
There were a lot of questions fielded about how and when officers could turn off their cameras, what video was public, how long the department would hold on to video, should officers watch their own videos while filing police reports and how the public could get access to the video.
"Most of the software used with these types of cameras has the capability to set a retention schedule for the data so that it deletes after 90 days," said Officer Andrew Achman. He said that right now, the department's squad car footage deletes after 90 days unless there is a reason to save it for longer, like an ongoing investigation. This cuts down on the cost of storing so much video data.
The police department worked on the policy draft as a group, researching how other cities handle body cameras and being sure to follow the Minnesota statute 626.8473 on the cameras as well as additional requirements set by the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
If someone requests a video from an incident, and there is information in it that the state deems to be private instead of public, police can redact the video. For example, anything involving juveniles is not public, but a parent could see a video of their child, Borchert said.
About 20 people sat in on the meeting, including Mayor Robert Beussman. Beussman said adding body cameras to the police departments equipment is a way to add to the security methods in place for the officers and citizens of New Ulm.
The department is looking at a few different types of cameras to decide what would be the best for recording their work. He mentioned a type of camera that could mount onto the officers' radio receivers.
Some types of cameras could sync with the squad car and turn on if they turned on their lights. The same company that produces the department's squad cameras, Watchguard, also makes body cameras. The Brown County Sheriff's Department's body-worn cameras fasten onto the front of their uniforms with a magnet, said Officer Tara Martin.
Right now, when officers are writing reports, they may use their audio recording to help them get the reports accurate. Borchert asked the public if they thought officers should be able to watch their own video. He got a positive response from a few attendees who agreed officers should be able to watch but not edit the video.
He said law enforcement workers have feelings about this because it could change how an officer writes their report.
He said he believed the officers should be wearing them at all times.
"I'm going to say, I think everyone should have a camera on if they're taking calls for service," Borchert said. "If they're working, they should have a camera on."
Borchert said the department hopes to test a couple of cameras this summer and then roll them out for all officers in the fall.
"We have to have a policy in place before we turn the cameras on in our community," Borchert said.
The City Council must approve the entire project and will likely hold a public hearing before approving any body camera policy from the police department.
"I vote you buy the cameras," said forum attendee Mike Hasse as the meeting wrapped up.