Detroit Lakes police look to implement body cameras within 2 years; Becker County Sheriff's Office note positive first year of use

The Detroit Lakes Police Department is looking to follow in the footsteps of the Becker County Sheriff's Office by implementing their own body camera program with in the next two years, according to the city's police chief. The Becker County Sheriff's Office has been using body cameras for nearly a year and are going to be purchasing additional cameras after their request was approved by the Becker County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.

A WatchGuard VISTA WiFi body camera used by the Becker County Sheriff's Office. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

The Detroit Lakes Police Department wants to implement a body camera program for their officers within the next couple years, according to Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steve Todd.

Todd said, after the final touches are completed on the new police station, one of his next main focuses is going to be starting the planning process for implementing a body camera program for his officers.

"The plan that I've kind of outlined for our City Council is that I'll probably be addressing this issue towards the end of this calendar year once we get everything all settled and moved to the new building," said Todd. "It's definitely a direction that I believe we will need to go in and we need to start having those discussions as to how we're going to pay for it."

He also said the body camera footage would also be valuable in verifying, or disproving, complaints made by individuals who have encounters with his officers out in the community.

"Maybe somebody was alleging that they were dissatisfied with the treatment they had received from an officer," said Todd. "If I have complaints, I'm able to look up that incident right from my computer. Our cameras automatically upload when the officer comes back to the station."


City patrol officers already use a dashboard recording system to record traffic stops and adding body cameras would cover areas when officer is out of view of the mounted camera. The Becker County Sheriff's Office uses a similar dashboard recording system that turns itself on once the vehicles emergency lights are engaged. They also have been using body cameras that automatically record once the dashboard camera system is initiated.

The sheriff's office began having their deputies wear body cameras last summer and was approved to purchase two additional cameras on Tuesday, April 20, during a meeting of the Becker County Board of Commissioners. The two additional cameras will be used as a backup for units already in the field and for part-time deputies. The Vista HD body cameras cost about $1,000 a piece and, with the three-year warranty, charging station and cables, a licensing key for cloud data storage, and shipping costs, the price increases to about $1,700 per unit.
"It's basically just a couple extra in our fleet to be able to manage the existing body cameras," said Becker County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Shane Richard. "There really hasn't been any pushback."

Shane Richard is the new chief deputy at the Becker County Sheriff’s Office.

Richard also said the cameras have provided a more complete rendering of each traffic stop, or incident, involving their deputies and have already been used as evidence in cases prosecuted by the county attorney.

"If we walked away from our squad cars, or went inside of a business or a residence, we had the audio that went with it … but you didn't get the visual side of it," he said. "(The body cameras) added kind of that last little piece of the puzzle of seeing what was going on."

Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd, after making a volunteer delivery to a senior in need in Detroit Lakes. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)


The Detroit Lakes Police Department is still at the beginning stages of their body camera planning, said Chief Todd, but he wants people to know these policies are more costly than just the sticker price for the equipment.

"The cost is generally coming down, the cost to store data in-house is generally not as expensive as it used to be, but they do require a lot of intense management," said Todd. "It's not as simple as buying a camera and plugging it in. You have to have a whole thought process as to who's going to do all of this ongoing management, and that's eventually going to lead to needs for more personnel."

Todd also said he expects a public hearing on the future of police body cameras in the city to take place within the next year and the program could begin its roll out the following year, if the funding and the policy elements are in place.

"There is an outlined process for the agency, the employer of a municipality, or county, needs to have a chance for public input as to whether the cameras should be purchased, and then also, public input on to what the policy should be with those cameras," said Todd. "We're all in pursuit of the truth, and (the public) wants the truth of what occurred and there is not a lot of discrepancy when it comes to what is on the videotape."

The department may need up to 17 body cameras, if every officer in the department were to be issued their own personal body camera. And, if they are priced similarly to the sheriff's office cameras, the equipment costs alone would be more than $28,000 and would be sure to rise even higher with data storage costs potentially additional staff.

A WatchGuard VISTA WiFi body camera used by the Becker County Sheriff's Office. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

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