Mpls. body camera use to be reviewed, upgrades possible

The Minneapolis council will hear details of body camera audit Wednesday. Tech upgrades are being considered.

MINNEAPOLIS - The use of body cameras by Minneapolis police officers is already under scrutiny following the shooting death of Justine Damond, and now the Office of Police Conduct Review is about to undergo an audit of the technology.

On Wednesday, Minneapolis City Council members will learn more about the review and what might be in store.

In her final news conference before resigning, former Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau said the department may look to technological upgrades after officers failed to capture body camera video during the shooting of Justine Damond.

"There are a couple of different options that we know will be made available," Harteau said. "One within the next couple of months in which, when an officer removes their gun from the holster, the camera is activated, not only with the officer but with people, I believe, within 30 feet."

Axon, which makes the MPD body cameras, is planning to release that holster activation technology, called Axon Signal Sidearm, by late September. The company currently offers a similar technology which can automatically activate body cameras from sensors installed in the squad car. But so far, a company spokesperson says MPD cameras are still manually activated.

"You double click," said Axon spokesperson Steve Tuttle, demonstrating how a large button on the body camera enables recording. "As part of that recording it went back and grabbed the previous 30 seconds of video as well."

That 30 seconds of video, also known as buffer video, is captured continuously throughout an officer's shift, but it is only stored if an officer presses record. The video often serves as a safeguard when an officer is surprised by an event and it has been critical in the past.

Most recently, it's what caught footage of an MPD officer shooting a resident's dog. But that so-called buffer video does not record audio, which in this case could have bolstered or contradicted the officer's account about the dog's behavior.

But the lack of audio is intentional, to protect officers privacy.

"They might be less inclined to quickly hit (record), thinking to themselves, 'Wait did I just say something stupid that could be a national news story?'" Tuttle said. “Those quiet buffers were put there for a good reason, to protect the officers’ privacy so they can have a good work environment, too.”

Tuttle says Axon has no immediate plans to add sound to buffer video, but it is allowing cities to extend footage you wouldn't otherwise see.

"In the last two months we've updated the firmware that now it's programmable to go in 30-second increments so you can now extend that buffer 30, 60, 90 or 120 seconds," Tuttle said.

But even with the longer buffer options, control is still in the officer's hands.

"That's the tricky part with body cameras," Tuttle said. "They do require that intervention with the human and that's based on good training, clear policies, a clear understanding and practice."

KARE 11 wanted to know whether the city, or MPD, has considered extending the amount of buffer video it saves, or if it will stay at 30 seconds. We are told they are still working on an answer.

© 2017 KARE-TV


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