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Police chiefs will seek to limit access to body camera footage


Some of Minnesota's police chiefs plan to ask the Dayton administration to limit public access to video footage from officers' body cameras, The Associated Press reports.

Maplewood's chief, Paul Schnell, tells the AP police officers see people in personal and traumatic moments – particularly when they enter their homes – and he compares public viewing of that video footage to window peeping.

Schnell says the group will ask the state to enact temporary restrictions that would be in effect until the Legislature approves regulations.

This spring the Minnesota Senate passed a bill on access to body cam footage, but the House did not vote on it. Under that bill, the public would have had access only to footage from public places or any situation in which an officer used a weapon or used physical force that caused an injury. The people who are pictured in a video would have access to that footage.

Rich Neumeister, a longtime advocate for opening government records, tells the AP sweeping restrictions on footage would undermine the goal of holding police departments accountable for officers' actions, asking "Don't people have a right to know what their law enforcement is doing?"

What does a typical cop's body cam show?

MPR News and KARE 11 set out to answer that question by requesting all the video collected on a Saturday evening in March by officers in Duluth, Minneapolis, Burnsville, and Farmington.

The footage opened a window onto the daily life of a cop, MPR says – showing officers navigating language barriers during a traffic stop and serving as peacemakers in a family fight.

One of the segments they posted to YouTube shows Duluth officers arriving at a group home for people with brain injuries or mental health problems.

Another involved a domestic dispute over child custody.

Who's using the cameras?

According to the AP, about 30 Minnesota law enforcement agencies have adopted body cameras for officers or are experimenting with them.

Minneapolis completed a six-month pilot program and is preparing to equip all of its officers with cameras. Police in Rochester will begin wearing them by the end of this year. Duluth's department has been using them for a little more than a year. St. Paul plans to start a pilot program next year.

Use of the cameras has been spreading all over the country, but cities and police departments are still figuring out what guidelines and policies work best.

Last year the Police Executive Research Forum published a 92-page report with recommendations and lessons learned. This spring, a division of the Department of Justice created a website that offers law enforcement a National Body-Worn Camera Toolkit.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that city's police chief said in May that numbers there show officers wearing cameras are using less force and receiving fewer complaints from citizens.

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