by CESAR SALAZAR

 

The Winona Police Department (WPD) recently released a draft policy for body-worn cameras for its officers as part of its process to implement body cameras. First, the WPD must go through a process of gathering public input on the bodycam policy. The WPD plans on holding a public hearing on May 2 to gather input on the final draft of the policy.

The policy governs the usage, management, access, and retention of the bodycams and their data. The policy also helps to set rules as to when the cameras are activated.

“We have the public input period to see if the public is noticing anything glaring that they feel is not appropriate,” Police Chief Tom Williams said.

Once a policy is approved, the WPD will purchase the BodyWorn cameras and issue them to all WPD officers in late summer, according to Williams.

“We looked at a policy created by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust,” Williams said in regard to the creation of the draft. “We also looked at the Winona County Sheriff’s Office, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, The Duluth Police Department, and the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. We also looked at our policy manual, which has pre-created policies.” He continued, “We actually molded it, utilizing input from all those different policies. Then it was reviewed by our city attorney as well.”

All bodycam data is retained for a minimum of 90 days, according to the draft policy. The draft policy also notes that data involving deadly force by a police officer or otherwise warrants a narrative report or supervisory report, or raises a formal complaint against an officer would be required to be retained for a minimum of seven years. The WPD would also need to make a record of the data with evidence.

“Each agency varies in terms of how long they retain the data, and that is based on what system they purchased and what agreement was made with the vendor,” Williams said. He continued, “We will see moving forward how much data we are actually collecting and possibly change our retention rules once we have that data in front of us.”

The draft policy also states who would have access to the footage. According to Williams, individual officers would have access to their own data, while administrators and possibly shift supervisors would have access to their subordinates’ footage. “We’re going to see how it works moving forward to see if the shift supervisors would have access to video,” Williams said. “Obviously, they supervise the officers directly and would be able to handle citizen complaints on their end, depending on the severity of it.”

According to the draft policy, bodycam footage could be viewed by individuals who are in the footage (as long as it isn’t part of an ongoing investigation), witnesses (as part of an ongoing investigation), prosecutors, courts, and other law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes. Certain identifying data would be redacted pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, which would help protect the identities of uninvolved citizens, juveniles, and private information, such as addresses and dates of birth.

Most body camera footage will never be available to the general public. Under state law, the footage is only public — with few exceptions — when there is a police shooting or use of force that causes substantial harm.

According to the draft policy, police officers’ bodycams would be activated during law enforcement-related encounters, such as responding to calls and pursuits, traffic stops, interviews, arrests, and searches. They would also need to be activated during search warrants, police-citizen contact that leads to the use of force, transportation of persons in custody, and individuals appearing to be under a mental health crisis.

While most cases would see that a bodycam is activated automatically, per the draft policy, cases in which officers are unable to activate their bodycam in unsafe or impracticable situations would need to be documented.

The draft policy also states that once the camera system is active, the system should remain on during the duration of the incident. 

The WPD will use automatic triggers to activate the cameras with no police officer interaction. Some of the triggers offered by Utility that the WPD would use are holster sensor activation, vehicle sensor activation, foot pursuit activation, gravity activation, and emergency light activation.

In terms of bodycam activation, Williams discussed that he hopes to have as many triggers offered by Utility active, with the exception of geofencing and squad car door openings. “Setting up a geofence so that when an officer comes within one block any direction (of a call location) that it would automatically trigger that — we’re going to have to explore the ability of the camera system to integrate with our current computer-aided dispatch vendor,” Williams said. He continued, “There’s the ability to use the opening of the car door… When an officer gets out of the car, he would have the trigger set to activate the camera, which seems excessive to me.”

The draft policy is accessible for viewing to the public and can be found at www.cityofwinona.com/706/Body-Worn-Cameras. The WPD will be gathering public input at a City Council meeting to be held on May 2.

“We’re looking to see both the positive [and negative] comments that the public has: f they think it’s beneficial the way it’s written, if they think it has enough oversight, and if they agree with the standpoint on how the cameras are going to be utilized by the officers,” Williams said. “Also, any suggestions that they have in terms of what they think may help from a public standpoint that may be missing from the policy or something that may be worded [in a way] that’s not clear to them or possibly they foresee as a problem going into the future. We can take everything into consideration before we push out the final product.”

Local@winonapost.com