Most La Crescent police officers will be equipped with body cameras starting next month.

The police department has secured federal funding of about $25,000 for the $50,000 project that should see all La Crescent officers wearing the cameras by next summer. La Crescent Chief of Police Doug Stavenau said the cameras will be a “mutual benefit” to the officers and any members of the public who interact with the police. The additional $25,000 in funding will come from the city, although Stavenau is anticipating that the project will come in about $10,000 under budget.

“It’s an attempt to provide one more tool that provides a pictures of what’s happening,” Stavenau said last week.

A public hearing on the policy that will govern the use of the cameras is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 18, at La Crescent City Hall. The policy states that the cameras must be turned on during vehicle pursuits, arrests, searches, during any use of force by police or verbal confrontations, and in a variety of other instances.

Stavenau noted that the cameras won’t always be able to capture every detail of an incident, but even if an incident is out of range or not visible for some reason, the cameras will still capture audio of events.

The department’s body camera policy states that officers should attempt to respect the privacy of individuals by stopping recording if it seems “such privacy may outweigh any legitimate law enforcement interest in recording.” Members of the public can ask officers to turn off their body cameras but officers will have the discretion to decide if they want to stop recording, the policy states.

All recordings will be kept for a minimum of 90 days, the policy states. Recordings of a police officer discharging a weapon in the line of duty, using force, or of an incident that generates a complaint against the officer, must be kept for at least one year.

Stavenau said he was aware that the use of body cameras has attracted both supporters and critics but he believes the devices can help police.

“If people are aware that they are being recorded they may act better,” he said.

Four of La Crescent’s seven police officers should start wearing body cameras in January, Stavenau said, and by next June he expects the remaining officers to also be equipped with the cameras. La Crescent is expecting to add an eighth officer in the summer of 2018 who also will get a body camera, Stavenau said.

The use of body cameras by police spread after the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the ensuing public protests.

La Crescent will be the first department in Houston County to adopt the use of body cameras, according to the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

An estimated 40 police departments in Minnesota out of a total of 325 use body cameras, including the Rochester, Minneapolis and St. Paul departments, according to the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. Andrew Wittenborg, a spokesman for the association, said the number of departments using body cameras grows each month.

Houston County Sheriff Mark Inglett said his department is likely to use body cameras at some point in the future. At the moment, Inglett said he’s focused on attempting to secure $65,000 in funding to upgrade in-squad cameras. The sheriff said body cameras would be a benefit by providing increased transparency to the public. The cost and difficulty of storing the video footage is the biggest obstacle, he said.

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Coulee Courier and Houston County News editor

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