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Rules could price small towns out of police body cameras

ST. PAUL -- Legislation to regulate video taken with police body cameras may make them so costly that small communities will not be able to afford them.While federal funds can supplement local money to buy the cameras, some at a Minnesota legisla...

ST. PAUL - Legislation to regulate video taken with police body cameras may make them so costly that small communities will not be able to afford them.
While federal funds can supplement local money to buy the cameras, some at a Minnesota legislative meeting Wednesday said that provisions in the bills requiring lengthy video storage and editing of some videos may cost small, cash-strapped communities too much.
A lawmaker from Minnesota’s second-largest city, which has a successful body cam program, launched the discussion.
Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, said that storing data is not cheap and to hire people to edit that video as likely would be required under three bills being considered also could be cost-prohibitive to small departments. Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said that the bills do not require any department to buy body cameras. However, Lesch pointed out that some small departments already outfit their officers with them and to continue using cameras would mean following a new law with pricey mandates.
There also is an issue of whether it is fair for bigger cities with more money to have body cams available, but small and poor communities would be forced to do without.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said that he state may need to help with some of the costs.
“We are mandating that X Department is not going to be able to use them...” Cornish said. “We are keeping departments from using them that want to use them.”
Cornish, a House law enforcement leader and long-time law enforcement officer, said the problem “is something that has to be thought about.” No solutions arose during Wednesday’s four-hour meeting about body camera legislation.
Deep divides remain in what should be in a bill, or even whether regulations are needed. As it is, existing laws govern what video can be released, but some say video is different from written reports and car dash cams, so laws need to be updated.
“Some folks think we don’t need a bill, others are adamant that we do need a bill,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, author of a new body cam proposal.
Cornish put chances of a body cam regulation bill at 50-50, pledging not to make compromises his communities do not want.
“I’m with Rep. Cornish,” Latz said. “At some point, we have got to decide if the compromises are going to be worth the final package.”
Many issues are in play: when cameras should be running, what video may be public, when the public could get video, how long video should be stored and how to edit video so people such as victims, innocent witnesses and others cannot be identified.
One of the problems is new issues keep arising, such as whether small communities can afford body cams.
“There is concern over the cost of the storage and of the retrieval of data,” said Dennis Flaherty, who represents police officers around the state.
Flaherty said some departments want to buy body cams, but cannot estimate on-going costs until the state decides what it will do, if anything, to regulate them.
“I would like to craft a bill that wouldn’t prohibit cities and small communities from having a burden for the high cost,” Cornish said in an interview.
Scott, however, said: “If you want the technology, you need to weigh the cost.”

Related Topics: POLICE
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