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Rochester commission digs into body cam policy

The Rochester Police Policy Oversight Commission used its second meeting Monday to explore the issues inherent in police body camera policies, with an update on a draft policy and equipment specifications from department staff.

According to Police Chief Roger Peterson and Lt. Craig Anderson, there is a balance the policy will define between personal privacy and public information.

"When we're dealing with the data privacy issues, our line to walk is between that transparency and privacy — privacy of the community," Peterson said. "We're asking for help in drawing those lines."

The cameras ordered by the department do not record the entirety of an officer's 12-hour shift, Anderson explained. The cameras are limited by both battery power and the volume of data a 12-hour video every shift would accumulate.

Officers must manually activate the cameras, but once recording, officers have no further control over the video captured. Videos are uploaded to an off-site server after each shift, and only department administrators have access to video content.


"Officers cannot delete any videos, they cannot alter any videos, they cannot edit any videos," Anderson said.

A body camera policy must dictate when officers should activate the cameras. Some department policies reviewed by Rochester staff have indicated all public interactions should be recorded, Peterson said.

Less than 2 percent of the Rochester Police Department's call load is attributed to serious crimes, Peterson said. Those situations should be recorded, but other situations, like medical calls or calls during which officers enter a home but no criminal charges result, are less clear, Peterson said.

Another point for the commission to consider, described by Anderson and City Attorney Terry Adkins, is the public availability of body camera videos. Any video not classified as pertaining to an ongoing criminal investigation is public information and accessible by data requests, Adkins explained.

The department's responsibility to redact non-public information contained in videos that are released is a time- and cost-consuming process. The department will request at least one additional full-time staff person in record keeping to meet future requests, Anderson said.

Some departments have faced requests for overwhelming amounts of data, and in at least one instance, these huge data requests have forced departments to abandon the use of body cameras altogether, Anderson said.

Until the Minnesota Legislature or a higher authority rules differently, massive data requests are an issue any department could face.

Commission Member Lawrence Collins asked whether the Rochester department could, on a trial basis, limit its use of body cameras to criminal situations. The move would effectively limit videos captured to those that could be classified as ongoing criminal investigations and therefore be unavailable to public data requests.


"By limiting (body camera use) to active criminal investigation cases, it seems to me it would help us prevent the expense and the other consequences of these (public information) demands while at the same time giving us an opportunity to see how it works in the real world, and in those cases that are the most important, at least by some definitions," Collins said.

When state or federal law addressed the public availability of data, the department could expand the use of the cameras, Collins later clarified.

The Rochester Police Department has placed its order for police body cameras , but before the cameras are on the streets, the department will continue to consult with the police policy commission and eventually seek to have a policy approved by the Rochester City Council.

The Rochester Police Policy Commission meets next at 1 p.m. Aug. 3 in the city-county Government Center, Room 104.

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