It’s good to see bipartisan support for a legislative proposal to have the state help local police departments fund body cameras. Now political leadership must get on board.
A public safety package being ushered through the House by DFL Rep. Carlos Mariani, chairman of the public safety committee, includes $2 million to help local police departments, including many in outstate Minnesota, buy body cameras. In fact, we believe $2 million is not enough, given the importance of the body cameras to public safety and effective policing.
The provision is not included in the GOP Senate public safety plan, but GOP Sen. Warren Limmer, chairman of the Senate public safety committee, said he favors the idea. He told MinnPost that the idea has not surfaced in the public safety conference committee, and it is up to Gov. Tim Walz, GOP Majority Leader Sen. Paul Gazelka and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman to include body cameras in the budget.
A recent incident where county deputies working with U.S. Marshals shot and killed a Black man in Minneapolis raised the issue again as the officers were not wearing body cameras. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and other partner agencies have since withdrawn from the U.S. Marshals Service’s Northstar Violent Offender Task Force because they were told their officers can’t wear body cameras on joint missions.
Walz said he was concerned body cameras were not used in the incident.
As the George Floyd case and others have demonstrated, body cameras are critical tools not only for policing, but also for giving the public a sense of what actually happened. Body camera footage doesn’t always favor a suspect being shot. Footage can also show the great danger officers face on patrol.
Limmer told MinnPost: “I think personally it’s a good investment and I believe it enhances police professionalism as well as ultimately justifying police action,” he said. “And on top of it, that recording gives victims or victims’ families of police arrests an opportunity to review what really happened and often-times that can quell the curiosity or the suspicion in the community of a potential wrongdoing.”
We couldn’t agree more.
And there’s a great need for body cameras, especially with smaller outstate police departments. In International Falls, for example, the police tested body cameras for six months, but the chief ultimately decided the department couldn’t afford the cost of not only buying the cameras but managing and maintaining the footage. The cost of body cameras for Bloomington police was about $220,000 a year.
Law enforcement experts estimate 30 to 40 percent of police departments, many in outstate Minnesota, have no body cameras.
We urge Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders to make a small investment in a significant tool that will enhance public safety for police and taxpayers.