Plymouth will wait to implement body-worn camera policy

By Kristen Miller
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The Plymouth City Council has decided to hold off on purchasing and implementing body-worn cameras for the police department, but will budget for the cameras so the money is available in the future.

Police Chief and Public Safety Director Mike Goldstein explained the purpose of the June 27 special meeting was to discuss on the initiation of body-worn camera program, if and when the council decides it’s ready to proceed with a program.
“We don’t have to make a decision tonight,” Goldstein said.

Body-worn cameras would be in addition to the already used dash cameras, which were installed in all Plymouth vehicles in 2002.

Due to recent local and national officer-involved shooting events, some communities have sought increased transparency from their police departments.
“Our city has not had a strong reaction from our citizens requesting or specifically demanding the institution of body-worn cameras to accomplish this need,” wrote Dan Plekkenpol, deputy director of public safety, in the staff report to the special meeting.

The pros of implementing body-worn camera technology would be “in the spirit of transparency” by providing a record of what occurred if a criminal complaint is made or an officer is being investigated, Goldstein noted.

The cons would be the costs of the technology and capturing imagery that might be sensitive.

While the initial cost over the first two years will range from $285,000 to $320,000, depending on several factors, “I don’t think we can fully realize [the cost] until we are using the technology,” Goldstein said.

The current capital improvement plan has $100,000 allocated for this program. Data privacy was also discussed, which could ultimately lead to additional costs for staff time if footage is requested and needs to be retrieved and redacted.

In regards to capturing sensitive imagery, Goldstein explained that depending on where the camera is mounted on the body, the camera would only capture what it is facing. Therefore, there is potential for the camera to not capture all that was seen by the officer, or to capture more than what the officer sees, such as darkness at night.

Additionally, Goldstein explained the discretion is wide within the law as to when an officer would activate the cameras. For example, cameras would likely not be activated in the case of a medical situation, so if an altercation took place, it would not be recorded.

“Looking at this from a philosophical perspective, what does the council want with regards to this technology?” Goldstein asked.

“On a personal level, I still believe that an officer’s word is good. However, in some circumstances, society would challenge my perspective and would rather rely on something other than someone’s word; and in their mind, a picture paints a thousand words or more. And in some cases that’s absolutely true, and in other cases it’s not,” Goldstein said.

“There have been plenty of examples from across the country where things have occurred and captured with the body-worn cameras that the public does not have the opportunity to truly understand what’s transpired, because the camera didn’t capture everything that was seen,” he said. “The other thing, technology has advanced so much that a camera can pick up more than a human eye can pick up.”

In dark settings, for example, an officer might think he sees something and therefore took the action he did, whereas the camera could show something else that can’t be seen. The camera can also enhance certain things that may not be accurate, he noted.

“I have strong feelings on both sides of the equation here as far as if this is something we should do now,” Goldstein said.

Further, the public safety department staff looked at best practices and proposed a draft policy based on the League of Minnesota Cities recommendations, which follows state law. They also looked at the policies already incorporated at the Burnsville and Brooklyn Park. Staff members evaluated a variety of devices and narrowed the scope to two potential providers, and looked at data storage options.

Minnesota law does mandate communities moving forward with the body-worn cameras to receive public comment prior to purchasing and implementing a system.

Councilmember Judy Johnson questioned if the timing was right to move forward and whether or not to wait another year so as to gain the best information. She did suggest allocating additional funds so the funds are available when the city is ready to move forward.

Goldstein said he didn’t see the harm in waiting until the next budget cycle, and noted the cost of technology would likely go down in the meantime.

Councilmember Jeff Wosje said he understands waiting and gathering additional information, but also didn’t want to be in a situation where the city wishes they had the policy in place.

Councilmember Ned Carroll also favored waiting, reiterating there was not currently a pressing need to take action.

Councilmember Jim Willis said he would trust Goldstein’s judgment as far as when the department may need to introduce the policy and technology.

Mayor Kelli Slavik agreed she was not in a rush to implement body-worn cameras. She wanted to wait to see what happens with the technology and the associated costs.
“It’s also important to send a message to our police officers that we trust them,” she said.
“We all understand things happen,” she said, but affirmed the consensus to rely on the chief’s judgment as to the proper timing for the cameras.