WINONA — While not yet approved, the Winona County Board of Commissioners spent time Tuesday discussing the purchase and implementation of body cameras for use by deputies in the county sheriff's office.
The county board first held a public input session, which drew no comments. However, Commissioner Steve Jacob expressed concern over some of the language regarding the policy for use of the cameras. Jacob said one portion of the language concerning when cameras should not be in use sounded troubling.
That section states, "Members shall not surreptitiously record another office member without a court order unless lawfully authorized by the Sheriff or the authorized designee."
Jacob said he did not want that language causing confusion with deputies causing them to turn off their cameras in an instance where they should be accountable to the public.
Winona County Chief Deputy Jeff Mueller said that language is meant to keep deputies from recording one another during times when they are not on a call or a traffic stop, such as simply riding around in their cruiser and chatting.
"The policy is very standard when the camera is turned on and the camera is turned off," Mueller said.
Ben Feist, chief progams officer for the ACLU of Minnesota, said that while he has not reviewed the proposed policies in Winona County, one of his main concerns is that cameras be used to help keep law enforcement accountable during interactions with the public.
"We’ve been supportive of not having the body cameras on when you’re not engaging with the public in some way," Feist said. "For us, it's about turning them on and keeping them on when you have an active call, or when you're reasonably likely to be on a call."
Feist said the ACLU has supported the idea of body cameras, but has seen them used more as a surveillance tool or evidence-gathering tool instead of a tool for police oversight. And with Minnesota's strict data-privacy laws, footage "rarely sees the light of day" in cases where there are questions about police actions. That, he said, needs to change.
Muller said the sheriff's office in Winona County has been looking into the question of body cameras for deputies for about a year. Currently, the county is looking to purchase 22 cameras, which would include body and dashboard cameras, at a cost of $241,450 over five years.
Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi said the Winona Police Department does not have body cameras for its officers, but had discussed the issue in the past.
The county board generally holds a public hearing about an issue at one meeting and votes on that issue the next meeting. Commissioner Marcia Ward said the board will likely vote on whether to buy and implement policies concerning body cameras at the next scheduled. meeting.