Body-worn camera policy for Blaine officers

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

By this fall, the Blaine Police Department will join the ranks of law enforcement agencies whose officers will have cameras attached to their uniforms.

Residents can view the draft policy for the Blaine Police Department’s new body-worn cameras on the city’s website. Courtesy of Blaine Police Department
Residents can view the draft policy for the Blaine Police Department’s new body-worn cameras on the city’s website. Courtesy of Blaine Police Department

Former Blaine Police Chief Chris Olson, who retired June 30, said he approached the Blaine City Council to discuss body-worn cameras during a budget discussion in August 2016. He said this issue has been on his radar in recent years, but he was waiting for the Minnesota Legislature to define whether video recorded by body cameras would be public or not.

The bill Gov. Dayton signed into law at the end of the 2016 legislative session makes these videos private unless someone shown in the video sees it and chooses to make it public or if an officer causes substantial bodily harm, but in both cases the criminal investigation would have to be completed before a video could be released to the media or the public.

Dan Szykulski, Blaine’s interim police chief, said police departments and sheriff’s offices adjusted to squad car cameras when they were introduced and they will adjust to body cameras, too. He believes that most and perhaps all law enforcement departments in Anoka County will use body cameras within the next 10 years.

“The citizens deserve to know what’s going on,” he said.

A Blaine Police Department committee reviewed policies of half a dozen other departments, including Columbia Heights and Spring Lake Park, to draft a policy for how these body cameras would be used.

The policy has gone through some revisions and is still open for review and public comment, Szykulski said.

It can be reviewed by visiting www.blainemn.gov/BodyWornCameras. Click on the link to the “DRAFT Body Worn Camera Policy” to view the 14-page PDF document.

Szykulski said the committee will be making a significant modification to the draft policy that is currently posted online.

In this draft policy, it states that officers should activate their cameras when arriving on a call “in which police/citizen interaction would be adversarial or investigative in nature, and during incidents in which an arrest, search or detaining of a person occurs.”

The policy also said that the cameras should be activated during all traffic stops.

Szykulski said Blaine Police Department staff believe it makes more sense for officers to just leave the cameras rolling instead of having to remember a long list of call types to record. He said the initial belief was there would not be enough storage space on a server for all these videos. But the provider Blaine is working with has a cloud storage server that gives them the ability to store greater amounts of digital data.

That doesn’t mean the cameras will never be turned off. There’s obvious times when the camera can be shut off, such as when an officer is going to the bathroom.

In regard to investigations, Szykulski said officers would turn off their cameras if speaking to a victim of a sexual assault or hospital patients who are not in custody so their identity could be protected.

And the cameras must be turned off whenever the officer is inside the Blaine Police Department, Blaine City Hall or a Public Works facility. Szykulski said this is to make it harder for anyone to see the full layout of these facilities. While there are lobbies, reception desks and meeting rooms the general public can easily access, there are a lot of areas where only employees with key cards are allowed.

Not all videos will be kept permanently, which is the case for paper records. For example, records for a homicide case must be preserved, but cases where a police officer used force do not have to be kept indefinitely.

Blaine follows recommendations crafted by the Minnesota Clerks and Finance Officers Association, with assistance from the Minnesota Historical Society. Paper records that include transcripts of audio recordings are generally kept longer than video recordings.

For instance, Szykulski said paper documentation for a police use of force case is kept on file for 10 years while the video is kept for six years.

“The goal is to have a tool out there that’s beneficial for officers and the community and helps bring ongoing clarity to how law enforcement does their job,” Olson said.

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