Redwood Falls Police Department implementing Body Worn Camera process

Jason Cotner, Chief of Police
Special to the Gazette

Body worn cameras, or BWC for short, were first deployed by law enforcement in the United Kingdom in 2005. Like most new technology it was rudimentary and expensive. Ten years later the technology had become more reliable and cost effective so implementation in the United States started taking off around 2014.

In the early days of BWC deployment law enforcement officers were wary of the technology for a variety of reasons. There were concerns regarding employee privacy rights, recording video inside people’s homes, private information, and medical data. Some questioned the wisdom of recording informants and witnesses who may wish to remain anonymous as well as gruesome car crashes and crime scenes. All were legitimate issues that required legislatures to catch-up to the new technology. Seven years later, some of these issues have not been fully addressed and the laws that have been enacted will likely evolve in the future.

As BWC programs were being implemented in the U.S. researchers began studying them from a variety of angles. One of the consistent findings was that when people knew they were being recorded they tended to behave better. Departments with a BWC program found assaults on officers went down and complaints against officers went down as well. In other words, BWC programs made officers safer and officers were more likely to execute their duties in accordance with law and policy. Obviously there were exceptions, but statistically this result held true.

You may be asking, if BWC tend to make officers safer and result in more police accountability why aren’t they deployed throughout the country. A major reason is cost. The units cost roughly $700 each and are designed to withstand wind, rain, dust, impact, cold, heat, and the anything else officers encounter. A fairly reasonable amount when you consider how fragile your average cellphone is and what those cost.

The real cost of BWC is data storage and redaction. In Minnesota, by statute, every second of BWC video has to be retained for no less than 90 days, sometimes longer depending on what was recorded. All this video requires massive amounts of storage space. Furthermore, once a video is stored it is subject to public data requests. But before a BWC video can be released it must be in compliance with Minnesota’s data practices laws. That means video must be reviewed by staff and, using a redaction program, redact images or audio that can not be released under the law. This program not only adds a significant cost to the BWC program it requires staff time to operate it. So, although BWC have proven to be a valuable tool, deployment in rural and small agencies has been slow primarily due to the costs involved.

Fortunately, the City of Redwood Falls was able to utilize federal grant money to implement a BWC program at Redwood Falls Police Department in 2022. The five year cost of this program is $79,966.40. But we simply can’t buy these devices and deploy them into the field. Minnesota statute establishes a specific process every agency must follow prior deploying BWC and Redwood Falls Police Department started that process in November of 2021. Because of these statutory mandates and fluctuating supply chain issues an exact date of deployment is not known at this time. Our hope is the system will go live around May 1, 2022.

This is a huge investment but, I believe, an inevitable one. In the next 10 years I think it will be nearly impossible to find an officer on patrol in the United States who is not wearing a BWC. By making this purchase the City of Redwood Falls is enhancing RFPD’s law enforcement services and adding another layer of officer accountability to the public now rather than some time in the future.