Maplewood Police Department updates body-worn camera policy


Minnesota Municipal Power Agency recently installed a solar array at North High School as part of the Hometown Solar Grant program. submitted photo

Officers respond with lawsuit

The Maplewood Police Department updated its body-worn camera policy Nov. 15, about a month and a half before the entire department is expected to be outfitted with the cameras in January.

A handful of Maplewood police have been wearing body cameras since April 2014, and funding for an expansion of the existing program is included in the department’s proposed 2017 budget.

On Nov. 14, Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell updated the city council on the work done on the body-worn camera policy by the council-appointed Police Use of Force Workgroup.

He highlighted some of the changes the workgroup recommended for the police department’s body-camera policy. Those changes became effective on Nov. 15.

But three days later on Nov. 18, the unions for Maplewood police officers filed a lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court about the way the policy was drawn up.

Minneapolis attorney Timothy Louris is representing the police unions that Maplewood officers are members of. He said, “The unions’ sole objective in the lawsuit is to obtain a court order requiring the city of Maplewood to formally bargain over two specific provisions of its new body-camera policy.”

He said the provisions under question “pertain to: general surveillance of officers by their supervisors, and the right of officers to review body-camera videos prior to giving statements when critical incidents occur.”  

“Minnesota state labor law requires cities to bargain with unions regarding all policies that affect employee working conditions, and we strongly believe that these two provisions of the city’s body-camera policy fall in that category,” Louris added.

Schnell countered that Maplewood city officials have the stance that these provisions are not subject to collective bargaining, and he doesn’t expect the case to delay the full deployment of body-worn cameras by January. 

Schnell added that there were at least two formal sessions where police administration did meet and confer with the unions, “and the department did adopt some of the recommended changes to the language.”

The policy development process overall also included input, discussion or consultation with representatives of these organizations: the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, Law Enforcement Labor Services, Maplewood City Council, Maplewood’s Use of Force Workgroup, Maplewood Police Department, Minnesota Coalition on Government, St. Paul Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Minnesota Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Experts in the field, Maplewood community members and the Maplewood city attorney were also included.

Although the workgroup made 11 recommendations for policy changes, several of them only included updated language to make the policy more easily understood. Schnell explained to the council only a few changes that were noteworthy. 

To view the full body worn camera policy, visit maplewoodmn.gov/1659/Body-Camera-Policy.

 

Access to footage

The workgroup recommended that Maplewood “maintain the draft policy that officers involved in a critical incident resulting in gre at bodily harm or death not be allowed to view video prior to making a voluntary statement, unless otherwise approved by the chief of police, the investigating authority and the prosecuting authority.”

The draft version of this policy was previously discussed with guest speakers at a city council workshop Sept. 26. One of the speakers, Yusef Mgeni from the St. Paul NAACP, said that officers should not be able to view any footage before reporting on it because residents involved in the incident would not be allowed this privilege before making a statement to investigators. 

At the same workshop, Schnell said that by allowing the officers in most instances to view the video before writing their reports, it allows the officer to report more accurately and capture exact quotes. He pointed out that audio recording devices have been used for a number of years to take statements that are used later in the reports. 

Schnell also explained in September that the reason for not allowing the footage to be viewed in cases of great bodily harm is so that an officer’s voluntary statement is from the perspective of a “reasonable officer in the field” and not the hindsight provided by re-watching the incident unfold. 

After hearing the various perspectives at the September workshop, the workgroup added a second part to that recommendation. The second part refers to the option to approve an officer viewing the footage. It states, “In the event that such approval is granted, it is our recommendation that a public explanation be offered for why the approval was granted.” 

“The members of the workgroup felt strongly that if we’re going to authorize someone to have access to that video prior to giving a voluntary statement, that we own that,” Schnell said. 

 

Use of data

Schnell noted at the meeting that the body-worn camera policy includes a section on the department’s use of data. 

The first provision states that “at least two times per month, supervisors will randomly review [body-worn camera] recordings made by each officer they supervise to ensure the equipment is operating properly and officers are using the devices appropriately in accordance with policy, and to identify any performance areas in which additional training or guidance is required.”

In an interview about the lawsuit, Schnell noted that one concern the unions have with the supervisor reviews is that they could be used inappropriately to target certain employees. Schnell added that provision B of that section was added on behalf of the unions and the language in provision F was adjusted.

Provision B states, “At least twice annually, or upon the request of any department member subject to this policy, patrol commanders will conduct a system audit to ensure that [body-worn camera] video review is equitably and fairly distributed across personnel. It should be noted that supervisory access to the video may be for reasons other than random review and shall be documented as such.”

Provision F addresses the disciplinary action associated with non-compliance or a policy violation. The language change altered the meaning so that those in non-compliance or violation of the policy “may” be subject to the disciplinary action instead of “shall” be.

“It’s pretty hard to be that definitive when we don’t know all the details,” Schnell said.

 

Storage of footage

Another change that was made after the September workshop was in relation to how long Maplewood will store footage from encounters where no incident occurred and no police report needed to be filed.

This policy’s draft version, which was discussed in September, stated that non-incident data would be held for 90 days, but NAACP member Mgeni pointed out that since the digital storage space Maplewood pays for is unlimited, the city should hold non-incident data for one year because that is the statutory limit for human rights complaints to be filed in Minnesota. 

He added that it could also be financially viable for Maplewood to do this because people don’t tend to file a costly lawsuit if they know there is evidence available that may disprove their claim.

At the time Schnell added that by keeping data longer than necessary on people who are not being actively investigated could also be problematic.

After listening to both sides, the workgroup members changed their recommendation before the Nov. 14 meeting to include the retention of non-evidentiary data for one year, though the recommendation notes that this was not a unanimous decision. 

Schnell noted to the city council that although the data will be held for a longer period of time, the data is private, which makes it inaccessible to the public without the subject’s consent, “so really I think it does respect the privacy of individuals.”

According to Schell the workgroup overall strived to create policies that would encourage the safety of all involved in police/resident encounters. They met every Thursday night since September to go through and discuss every single provision in the body-camera policy.

“We spent a lot of time talking with the superintendent of the BCA as well as our county attorney and we do feel at this point in time that this policy does reflect the best interests of the city of Maplewood, its police officers as well, as well as community trust, and I think that is reflected in all of the work that was done on this one policy,” Schnell said.

“I think that we can feel good that this is the product of considerable community scrutiny,” he added.

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

 

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