Crystal Police Department to implement body cameras

Cameras will be introduced gradually through 2018

By Laci Gagliano
Sun Post Newspapers

After gaining approval from the Crystal City Council at the Feb. 21 meeting, Crystal Police Department will soon implement a body camera pilot program for officers.

Chief of Police Stephanie Revering said the program, which will be funded by the Police Equipment Revolving Fund, has been in the works since April 2016, when she attended several body camera training programs that address the cameras’ usage in Minnesota and nationwide.

Revering said what she took away from that training was inspiration to implement a program in Crystal.

“We decided it was a good tool for us to build community trust,” she said.

The department then began researching the cameras, and presented its first proposal to the city council in July 2016, followed by the first public meeting in October.

“We wanted to get ahead,” Revering said of the department’s push for the cameras. “We showed the community what type of body camera we were looking at, informed them what type of body camera we were looking at, and informed them we were in the draft form of a policy and discussed implications and what the tool would be used for.”

A survey was sent to residents in December and January through social media and garnered 350 responses. The questions asked for residents’ opinions on whether the cameras will increase community trust, which 85 percent of respondents said they believed would happen. Nearly 70 percent of respondents agreed that body cameras should be used to record every interaction officers have with the public, and 67 percent cited transparency as a concept they value.

“It’s very evident to me that the community wants police accountability and transparency,” Revering said. “I want to make sure the community feels safe and feels like they can trust their law enforcement.”

Twenty-three percent of respondents to the survey cited privacy as the concept they value the most. Revering said that’s one of the main concerns citizens have expressed about the cameras.

“They’re concerned about people who are having medical situations and whether that would be public. We wanted to make sure people know that’s not public information,” she said.

In May 2016, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill into law requiring police departments using body cameras in the state to place restrictions on the availability of footage, including only allowing the footage to be shown to the general public if an officer in the footage causes a person substantial bodily harm. Additionally, if a person in a non-public video chooses to make a video public, anyone else in the footage other than a police officer can choose to blur their image.

Revering cited the ongoing scrutiny police departments are under, with several high-profile police-involved shootings creating a sense of unrest within communities. She also pointed out that having body camera footage can protect officers in situations where a complaint is made against an officer.

“It’s kind of two-fold,” Revering said. “There are times when someone makes a complaint against a police officer, and we are able to show them that video and show them it didn’t happen.”

Footage from the cameras will go to a server for storage, Revering said. The department already uses dash cameras, which Revering said will coincide with the body cameras. An initial server will be purchased along with the first 10 cameras, which Revering estimates will be accomplished in April, after another public meeting in March.

“With all the training I’ve been to, and having listened to folks from different states nationwide, I know that the departments that have been using them for a number of years have said it’s a great tool, not just for their officers but for the community. This isn’t new to Minnesota, but it’s definitely something that’s heard a lot of conversation,” Revering said.

The initial purchase of 10 cameras, equipment and a server for the pilot program will cost $25,000. Another $25,000 will be allotted for the second round of purchases in January 2018, according to Revering. She said that after several months of tests and evaluations, a third public comment hearing will take place in October. The department hopes to finalize the policy by December, and go live with the entire department by February 2018.

Contact Laci Gagliano at [email protected]