During the summer of 2014, a nationwide interest in police body cameras was re-ignited in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, which both occurred during encounters with the police. Proponents of police body cameras have frequently argued that the cameras promote transparency and accountability, while critics note privacy concerns and the expense of the new technology.
In May, as part of the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Partnership Program, the Justice Department announced a $20 million grant program to expand the use of police body-camera technology nationwide.
The city of Minneapolis announced a test program for police body cameras in late 2014 with the goal of department-wide usage by late 2015. That date was later pushed to 2016 as city officials weighed policy issues and applied for the BWC federal grant. As the police body camera program has expanded throughout the Minneapolis Police Department, city officials have determined that Minneapolis is not presently equipped to support the heavy demands of department-wide usage.
Recently, the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission has discussed the policy concerns that accompany the expansion of the body-camera program. Under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, all government data (including police-body camera footage) must be made accessible to the public. The city of Minneapolis, however, is not currently prepared to handle the demands of requests for body-camera footage, as it takes a significant amount of time and manpower to process the data.
It’s unclear exactly how the body camera program will sort itself out. It seems that a majority of people are in favor of equipping police with body cameras, but if the city moves forward under the current policies set forth in the Minnesota Data Practices Act, the bill is going to be astronomical. As a criminal defense attorney, body cameras would help give a clearer picture of what transpired during an encounter with an officer, and the city would likely save money in the long run in prevented police brutality suits, but it can’t be left for the taxpayers to foot the bill if the program moves forward in its current state.
Related source: Star-Tribune, Justice.Gov, KSTP