WORTHINGTON — The Worthington Police Department's officers have begun wearing body cameras.
According to Worthington Police Chief Troy Appel, the officers' body-worn cameras (BWCs) are turned on during all enforcement and investigative stops and during most self-initiated activities.
"If it's part of an investigation or a case, they'll automatically turn them on," Appel said. "Anything that becomes adversarial in any way, they'll turn the cameras on."
In fact, the BWC starts recording automatically when an officer activates their patrol vehicle's emergency lights, said Sgt. Tim Gaul.
Per policy, the camera is clipped on the officer's chest between their uniform's front shirt pockets. The camera is attached to a small DVR, which is later plugged into a docking station to charge and transfer recorded footage to the department's storage system.
Software then allows officers to review the footage on a split screen of both the body and dash camera footage.
While the department has had the capability to record police-civilian interactions since the mid-'90s, the dash camera provides a limited view.
The BWC records the officer's point of view, which Sgt. Josh McCuen said is beneficial considering many use-of-force situations occur in homes or areas beyond the patrol officer's dash camera.
The plan to equip all uniformed officers with a BWC was first announced publicly in fall 2018. Appel cited a number of reasons wanting to implement a BWC program since becoming chief in 2014. A means of capturing convincing evidence that is referred to the Nobles County Attorney's Office for a charging decision; enhancing officer safety; enhancing public trust; and a self-critique tool for officers were among several of the outcomes he sees the BWC program having.
During the time between announcing the program and its implementation, there were a number of statutory processes the department and city were required to undergo.
One of those included a public comment opportunity. Appel said of the few comments received, all were made via the department's Facebook page.
Several commenters suggested the cameras record during an officer's entire shift. From a data storage perspective, that isn't feasible, Appel said.
The department also needed to develop its policy and further review the program as it would relate to the Minnesota Government Data Privacy Act. Appel said the policy is based on a state model and other agencies.
Whether or not body camera footage captured may be released to the public will be dictated by Minnesota's Government Data Privacy Act. If an individual is the subject of the video, there may be sections of the footage available to them to review.
"There's almost always going to be something that needs to be redacted," Appel said about requested footage prior to its release.
The department's 13-page body camera policy may be reviewed online.
Officers give positive review
McCuen, Gaul and the department's other sergeants began testing the BWCs about a month ago. During that time, neither McCuen or Gaul have had anyone question or remark about the camera.
"Honestly, today I think most people expect it's there," Appel added.
McCuen and Gaul used the words "flawless" and "smooth" to describe implementation of the BWCs.
From a behind-the-scenes perspective, Appel said the cameras complement other technology and data storage already installed and in use for the department's dash cameras. Due to that existing equipment, the price tag was also a no-brainer.
The department's body cameras and DVRs cost approximately $35,000 from the city's public safety budget. The other bidding body camera company was in excess of $250,000.
Gaul — a 29 year veteran WPD officer — said he personally sees the program as an insurance policy to protect all involved — civilians, the department and the city of Worthington.
"That old saying, 'A picture is worth 1,000 words' — it's true," Gaul said. "I can write the best report in the world, but it's still my description. When you read it, you read it and put your own description in it. But if we both sit down and watch a video, there's really only one reality to it. It's what happened."
Gaul and McCuen agree that they feel more comfortable performing their jobs with the camera than without.
McCuen he views the new equipment as an opportunity to perform his supervision duties more effectively to help critique and advise officers' civilian interactions.
"It's a great opportunity for periodic reviews," Appel said.