Police body cameras are a hotly debated issue across the nation, which might be why St. Paul Police are asking residents to share their thoughts on the devices via a new online survey.
The questionnaire, posted on SurveyMonkey on Tuesday, comes as the department prepares to launch a recently approved pilot program that will arm St. Paul cops with the cameras next year.
As the Pioneer Press points out, the devices have become an important part of the national conversation on police conduct following "violent incidents" between cops and civilians (like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland).
Proponents of the body cams say they've been shown to protect officers and the people they deal with "by incentivizing both parties to reduce or eliminate the use of force,” and could also provide important evidence from crime scenes.
But there are privacy concerns over how the footage that police record will be handled and stored, and who should be able to view it – a number of Minnesota police chiefs recently asked Governor Dayton to limit public access to the body cam videos.
Body cams in Minnesota
The 15-question St. Paul survey mainly focuses on how residents feel about body cameras, and whether or not they believe they would be effective in improving community trust in law enforcement.
Some questions also ask respondents if they think the images recorded should be kept private, or open to members of the public.
The survey seems to have its critics, however.
The Pioneer Press noted worries that the questions are steering the public conversation toward the privacy issue, though a police representative told the paper the questionnaire "isn't meant to incite privacy fears, but to have community participation."
Despite the ongoing debate, the devices are in use in several Minnesota cities, including Duluth, Rochester and Burnsville, while Hastings approved its own pilot program a few months ago.
Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, police are set to strap on the cams next year.
According to Kare 11, a recent public hearing on the program found most of the citizens in attendance think Minneapolis officers should wear the devices to increase transparency and accountability, though some have reservations over the cost of the system.