Police Chief Jeff Appel asked the Park Rapids City Council on Tuesday to furnish city police officers with body-worn video cameras.

“We had two incidents, one in late July and one in early August, that prompted me to have a conversation with Administrator (Ryan) Mathisrud on the urgency of adding this program to the police department,” said Appel, adding that the city’s finance committee heard the proposal and recommended its approval.

He said the incidents included a fight, which is only documented by an audio recording featuring “intermittent screaming,” and an investigation involving himself and the police department’s investigator, for which no audio or video recording exists.

After posting the body cam plan on the department’s and the city’s Facebook pages, Appel presented comments from 28 readers that were generally supportive. When the meeting was opened to hear additional public comments, nobody spoke up.

By opening their proposed body-worn camera policy to public comment, Appel said, the department met all statutory requirements to implement the program.

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Regarding reasons for the proposal, Appel said:

  • Body-worn cameras support officer safety. “We all tend to be on our best behavior when we’re being recorded,” he said.

  • Although squad vehicles have dash cams, “not everything happens in front of a squad,” he said. Also, officers’ body microphones have a limited range.

  • Video footage provides material for officer training, self-critique and evaluation.

  • By showing what truly happened, body cam footage promotes transparency and public trust in law enforcement.

  • Video evidence can provide proof of criminal activity and document the full details of actions and statements.

  • Footage can benefit future investigations. “A lot of times, in our interaction with the public, we will gather information that we don’t know what kind a benefit that could be to another case in the future,” said Appel.

  • Body cam coverage can protect officers against false claims and misleading edits of bystander footage. “We operate under the assumption we’re being recorded all the time, but unfortunately, sometimes, videos are released with not the full story,” he said. “This allows us to have our side of the story recorded, the full incident.”

  • Video evidence can aid in the defense of civil actions against law enforcement officers and the city.

Appel also presented a bid from WatchGuard of Allen, Texas, to provide body cameras for all Park Rapids police officers, integrating them with their squad vehicles’ existing dash cam systems and installing recording systems in two police vehicles that do not have them.

WatchGuard’s total bid of $33,610 includes seven wearable cameras, two in-vehicle cameras and recording systems, a charging base, a Wi-Fi transfer station, a 16 terabyte server, warranties, service, installation and software.

Appel described such accessories as an evidence library, image redaction software (for example, to blur faces out of photos), the ability to share evidence with the city attorney via secure email, and wirelessly uploading footage from squad vehicles to the server – all with no licensing annual fee after installation.

In two separate motions, Tom Conway moved to approve the police department’s body cam policy and to approve WatchGuard’s bid. Both motions passed without dissent.