WINDOM — "In today's world, it's about the best thing you can do."
That's what Windom Police Chief Scott Peterson told the city council Tuesday evening while presenting a proposal for the police department to begin wearing body cameras.
"I strongly believe in it," he added.
Peterson explained that while crafting the policy, he looked into what cities around the state are doing and consulted with experts from the League of Minnesota Cities. He also shared the results of a poll the Windom Police Department posted on its Facebook page earlier this year.
During the two weeks the 10-questions survey was open, 108 people responded. Notable results include:
- 74.07% of respondents indicated that they feel the Windom Police Department should use body-worn cameras in the community.
- 76.85% said they believe body-worn cameras could help increase community trust in law enforcement.
- 39.81% marked that they think suspect behavior would improve if officers had body-worn cameras, and 51.85% said they think officer behavior would improve.
- 66.67% of respondents said they feel body-worn cameras should be activated during every contact with the public, including a private residence; 31.48% said the decision to activate the camera should be up to the discretion of the officer.
- 86.11% indicated that if they were to have contact with a Windom police officer, they would feel comfortable having the encounter recorded on video.
Windom police already have dashboard cameras, and if approved, body-worn cameras would work in concert with these, Peterson said. Any time either camera is activated by the officer, the other camera would also automatically turn on. Additionally, the policy states that cameras would be automatically activated when an officer turns on their emergency lights.
"The last thing you want in a time of emergency is to have to make sure your camera is on," he said.
Peterson told the council that he believes implementing body-worn cameras would be "a game changer." If a member of the public were to lodge a complaint about officer conduct, video footage would serve as evidence about what happened.
"It's an objective witness that's there all the time," he said.
The proposal indicates that outside of automatic activation, officers would have discretion to turn on their body-worn cameras manually if they believed the situation would yield evidentiary information. They would not be required to notify the public that they are being recorded.
Following each shift, each officer would be required to upload their body camera data. In the event of an officer-involved shooting, in-custody death or other police activity resulting in great bodily harm, an investigator would take charge of the body-worn camera and assume responsibility for uploading the data.
Once data is uploaded, it would be presumed to be private, with some exceptions. If the video footage is part of an active investigation, would be considered confidential. Data would become public under a few circumstances: it shows an officer discharging their weapon; it shows officer use of force that results in great bodily harm; the subject requests that it be made public; or it shows disciplinary action toward a public employee.
All footage would be stored for a minimum of 90 days. Footage that depicts an officer discharging their firearm would be stored for at least one year. Footage that shows police use of force or that documents circumstances leading to a formal complaint against an officer would be stored for at least six years.
Windom city council member Jayesun Sherman praised the proposed policy for striking a balance between public safety and undue surveillance of the public.
"It felt really comprehensive," he said.
Mayor Dominic Jones wanted to know how much weight public opinion would have on making adjustments to the proposed policy.
While he welcomes input from the public, Peterson said, he'd defer to people with experience writing such policies.
"Ultimately, we've got to have something that is workable and that meets the Minnesota statute," he said.
The city council unanimously approved a public hearing to take place during the next council meeting, June 15, at 6:30 p.m. Prior to the hearing, the public is invited to read the proposal in full at windom-mn.com.
After hearing from the public, the council will consider whether or not to approve the proposed policy.