Minneapolis police officers may soon have an extra set of eyes out with them on the street because the department is considering adding video cameras to the set of standard-issue equipment.
Over the years, there have been plenty of cases where police officers were caught on camera doing something that casts them in a bad light. That's one reason why the Minneapolis Police Department wants to become part of a growing number that has its own cameras recording things from an officer's perspective.
For the past three years, body cameras have helped document what happens while Burnsville police are on patrol -- including when a man walked into a lobby with a knife, forcing officers to use a Taser on him.
"There's a lot of benefit to it," Burnsville Police Chief Eric Geiseke explained. "It's not a tool to catch people doing things wrong. It's to catch them doing things right."
Soon, they may not be the only officers in Minnesota wearing more than badges while carrying out their duties on the street. Several members of the Minneapolis City Council want officers to start wearing body cameras later this year because keeping cameras mounted on an officer's collar or glasses could cut down on complaints of misconduct and brutality.
"The program isn't just the right thing to do for our communities of color," City Councilwoman Betsy Hodges said. "It's the smart thing to do for our entire city."
The entire city could stand to save, since liability lawsuits cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, doling out millions in payouts involving police over the past two years.
LIABILITY LAWSUIT PAYOUTS:
- $4,753,000 in 2011
- $868,000 in 2012
- $3,454,000 so far in 2013
Other cities that have outfitted officers with body cameras have seen results. In Realito, Calif., police have been equipped with video recording devices for the last year and a half. In that time, complaints against officers dropped 88 percent, and use of force dropped 60 percent.
Although some may have concerns about privacy, Chuck Samuelson told Fox 9 News the local ACLU has no problems with body cameras as long as the department is transparent about how the video will be used.
"If it's only turned on when it's to the benefit of the police, then you've lost more than you've ever gained," Samuelson explained.
Yet, Burnsville police say the body cams have allowed them to get rid of dash cams in squad cars, and they believe more departments will make the switch soon.
"It's a tool that's worked great for Burnsville," Geiseke assured. "It gets easier to use and we continue to see the benefits. I can't imagine not wanting to try or explore at some level."
So far, more than 2 dozen police departments across the country use the body cameras, and more are giving it a go every day. In Minneapolis, city leaders would like police to start with 25 cameras for a pilot program that would cost about $25,000 before phasing in body cameras for the rest of the force next year.