Mendota Heights police edge closer to body cameras

Roughly five months after it was first brought to the council, the Mendota Heights Police Department is growing closer to implementing body-worn cameras.

Speaking at the Feb. 5 Mendota Heights City Council meeting, Capt. Wayne Wegener said that as many other departments move toward implementation of body-worn cameras, the Mendota Heights department has tested and evaluated its own body camera systems.

“We’ve relied on our patrol officers to discuss system needs and do the testing of the functionality of those camera systems,” Wegener said. 

When the discussions and testing were complete, the department decided on an Axon system based on officer feedback and the integration capabilities of the system.

Wegener said it was the most intuitive and that the cameras themselves are easy to use.

“In addition to that, the management of the videos for the officers to review was also very easy to use,” he said. “We all know that a system that isn’t easy to use won’t be used at all.”

In the 2019 budget, the council approved the purchase of body-worn cameras for the police department. 

Wegener said earlier this year, the department purchased the Axon camera system. It’s also purchased a mobile camera system for squad cars to integrate with the body-worn cameras. This allows for officers to log into one system rather than two, Wegener said. Using both of the systems will also allow for one storage location for all videos.

Wegener said the next step will involve the body cameras being used for about a month to make sure officers are comfortable using the system, and to answer any questions they may have. 

After the month, the squad car cameras will go in use to complete the system.

Wegener said a draft body-worn camera policy has been posted on the department’s website. He added that to date, there has been no feedback from the community regarding the policy.

 

Council clarification

Council member Liz Petschel asked where the cameras would be on officers. Wegener said the cameras the department selected have various locations they can be mounted. 

“Many officers choose to mount them in the center of their chest, oftentimes between their pockets,” he said, adding there are various systems they can use to mount the cameras to their uniforms. 

Council member Jay Miller said having these cameras will help “everybody live in the city and work in the city under a safer manner.”

Council member Joel Paper asked when the cameras would be on. The policy dictates when the cameras would be on, and Wegener said it will be most interactions with the public. Officers have to turn the camera on by pushing a button.

“Once the mobile integration is complete, when the squad lights are turned on, it also activates the body worn camera,” Wegener said. “So there is no failure to forget or failure to get video in a real high stress, tense situation.”

One resident in attendance asked if a camera would be given to each officer or if they would assigned one when they show up for shift. 

Wegener said the department has gotten enough cameras so that each officer is assigned their own camera, which stays at the department when the officer is off duty.

When officers arrive for their shift, they will test the camera to ensure it works properly and affix it to their body. 

Mayor Neil Garlock asked how long camera data will be kept. The data is kept in accordance with the department’s retention schedule, so it will depend on how each piece of data is classified. If the video generates a case file it is kept for seven years, while a traffic stop with a citation is three years. The minimum retention time is 90 days. 

The department’s agreement with Axon includes replacement cameras after two and a half years. Wegener said that’s a one-time thing, and if the department continues with the company after this initial period the department would need to purchase new cameras after five years. 

Police officials expect that body-worn cameras will be fully implemented by April 1.

 

–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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