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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Editorial on Body Cameras

Here is an editorial I wrote for the News-Tribune on police body cameras last weekend.  Unfortunately, I could not write all I wanted to because it would have taken up a pages of the paper.  Here is the piece. 


Police Chief's View: Nation’s police can follow Duluth’s lead

Keeping up with technology to police more effectively has been a priority of the Duluth Police Department. After I became police chief in 2006, our department began outfitting our squad cars with dash-mounted video cameras. While some staff were skeptical at first, it did not take long for them to become supportive. In 2009, small video cameras that could be worn on a person’s upper body began to be produced, and we took immediate interest. Unfortunately, short battery life, cost, video storage and poor quality were several of the factors that delayed our deployment of the body camera. We continued to test various models over the last few years and settled on a model last year that meets our needs.
With strong support from Mayor Don Ness and our City Council, we have purchased about 100 cameras and fully implemented them for the entire patrol division in early July. Every patrol officer is assigned a body camera. While there are many departments trying out body cameras on a trial basis, I am aware of only a few mid-sized or large police agencies that have fully implemented body cameras through their entire patrol division; the Duluth Police Department is leading the way.

A few of the benefits of body cameras include capturing interaction and encounters, evidence documentation, added transparency and complaint resolution. I believe police body cameras will further strengthen our officers’ legitimacy in our city.

We already have found the value of the cameras when investigating citizen complaints. I received a concern from a citizen regarding a potential improper police interaction with an acquaintance of his. I reviewed the video footage and found the two officers involved showed extreme patience and civility while dealing with one of the more obstinate individuals I’ve seen. I was so impressed with the way the officers handled this individual that I took the time to commend them and thank them for their professionalism.

Prior to implementing body cameras, we knew some of the drawbacks. First, video footage is a two-dimensional view of a three-dimensional view. Cameras show some of what an officer sees but not everything. Additionally, there will be extra requests for videos from prosecutors, defense attorneys and the public. On calls requiring numerous officers, we’ve found there can be dozens of body-worn cameras recording the incident. Those videos need to be watched by investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys and then stored, which costs money.

We’ve built a solid policy governing the use of body cameras through collaboration with the Duluth Police Union, the Civilian Review Board, department volunteers and input from the American Civil Liberties Union. While I believe the actions of our police officers are a matter of public record, there are going to be instances recorded by police body cams that raise important questions about privacy — particularly when inside someone’s home. Eventually there will be law changes and best practices that come out of the evolving use of body cameras in policing. Our data privacy laws need to be updated to reflect public sentiment on this issue.

I commend Mayor Ness and City Council members for their tremendous support of body cameras and for continuing to ensure the Duluth Police Department remains a leader in policing.

Gordon Ramsay is chief of the Duluth Police Department. He wrote this at the request of the News Tribune Opinion page.

1 comment:

  1. My newsfeed keeps fighting over law enforcement posts vs. demonstrators marching! BLACK AND BLUE LIVES MATTER , chief- find common ground people and fight for justice together! My morning prayer at church!