The city of Shakopee has submitted a grant application to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking matching funds for the acquisition of body cameras for the Police Department.
The Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program Grant requires the city to put forth $60,000; if accepted, the DOJ will match that for a total of $120,000 to use on body cameras, which can capture video and audio of encounters between police and people.
If accepted, the Police Department will receive 40 body cameras worth $1,500 each. The grant also provides materials to store physical equipment and data. Data storage is the most costly component of body cameras.
City Council members voted to approve the grant application during an April 19 meeting.
Body cameras for police have become increasingly in demand in the wake of police-involved deaths in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. A study conducted in Rilato, Calif., by the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology showed use of cameras reduced citizen complaints against police by 88 percent in a population of 100,000; use-of-force incidents dropped by 58 percent.
In Minnesota, a handful of police departments, including Minneapolis, have acquired the cameras. The state Legislature has been debating a law regulating the use of cameras and the public access to the footage for more than a year. In 2015, the Senate passed a bill that restricts public viewing to the subjects captured in the videos, though there are exceptions for incidents in public where an officer uses a weapon or substantial force. But the House has stalled its bill as Republicans can’t agree on when officers can record and what the public has a right to see.
Advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union want to more public access to the footage.
The city will learn the fate of its application at the end of September. Police Chief Jeff Tate expects the obtaining the grant to be very competitive.
“Everybody realizes it’s inevitable,” Tate said of the reasoning behind applying for the grant.
He noted that the state legislature battle over how to handle the footage, when to film and how long departments must store the data puts state law enforcement agencies in limbo. That, and the unsure nature of the grant application, lead him to believe it could be a long time before cameras are on officers in Shakopee. He said SPD wants to have a fine-tuned policy for camera use should the department obtain the equipment. He wants the public to be involved in that process.
“If people have strong opinions one way or the other, they should discuss those with us,” he said.