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Police body camera pilot program gets go-ahead in Minneapolis

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A Minneapolis City Council committee approved a $170,000 pilot program to test body cameras on 36 police officers in the city.

The committee approved contracts Monday to test and study two different brands of cameras for a six- to nine-month period to determine which type best fits the city's needs, KARE 11 says.

Officers from three different police precincts – the 1st precinct (downtown Minneapolis), the 4th precinct (north Minneapolis) and the 5th (southwest Minneapolis) – will test the cameras, reports say. One brand, which is always recording, can be clipped to an officer's glasses or a headband, following their line of sight. The second option is clipped to the front of a uniform and can be turned on or off by the officer, the station says.

The city council also directed officials to report any issues with the program, including how it will be measured as successful, and how it will be independently reviewed, KSTP says.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has proposed spending $1.1 million for the body camera program next fall. The full council is set to finalize the pilot program Friday.

A handful of cities in Minnesota have officers wearing cameras – Burnsville and Duluth already do, while other cities have started testing them.

The White House has also recently come out in support of police officers wearing body cameras because it's one potential solution to bridge mistrust between law enforcement officials and the public, The Associated Press says, especially in light of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident sparked national outrage and violent protests in the city last month.

Recent complaints against metro police

There have also been complaints against police officers in the Twin Cities – including one this past week.

Community activists said a Minneapolis police officer used excessive force and threatened to shoot witnesses when arresting a 22-year-old Minneapolis man last Thursday, the Star Tribune reports.

The man was collecting signatures for a petition at a Cub Foods when an employee asked him to leave, and police say after a brief exchange the officer tackled and handcuffed him, the newspaper reports. A woman, who was a member of the organization collecting signatures, was also arrested.

Video of the incident was posted to YouTube.

St. Paul police were criticized in recent weeks as well, after cellphone video of the controversial arrest of Chris Lollie in a St. Paul skyway was posted to YouTube.

And in May, Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Chris Holbrook was cited and detained at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis as he was seeking signatures to get on the ballot – but the citation was promptly dropped.

The pros and cons of body cameras

Proponents say body cameras – which capture the perspective of an officer – will hold both police officers and citizens more accountable, as well as provide another viewpoint of an incident, which may have otherwise been captured on surveillance or cellphone video.

Cameras could also save the city money in unnecessary litigation fees from false allegations of police wrongdoing, and some studies show body cameras have reduced the number of complaints against officers.

"The number of citizen complaints went down, the uses of force – people are happier with what they're doing," Michael Quinn, a former Minneapolis police officer who now helps train officers across the country, told KSTP. "If you're a good cop doing the right things, you're going to love this because now it's, 'Look here it is. It's right there.'"

Critics, and the city, say there are still some logistics to work out – such as when officers would be required to wear or turn on the body cameras, privacy issues (recordings could end up becoming public record) and how long the recorded video will be stored.

Some law enforcement officials are also cautious of the programs because once they're launched, there's no going back – the public will start to expect real-time accounts of police interactions, the Star Tribune says.

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