Extra transparency and accountability: Body-worn cameras for the BCA

Sept. 27, 2021

A body-worn camera on a law enforcement officer's uniform

​When conducting an investigation, enforcing laws, and carrying out warrants, the general rule is: The more sources of information, the better. That's why Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) agents will soon be wearing body cameras.

The plan has been in the works for some time; a body-warn camera program at the BCA has long been a shared goal of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. So when the BCA received funding for a body-worn camera program from the Legislature this year, they were able to set the wheels in motion. Once the BCA completes a pilot process with the cameras, they'll implement the program in full by early 2022.

BCA agents are no strangers to body-worn cameras since they view video from such cameras frequently as part of investigations involving other agencies. But the way BCA agents will use the cameras will be a little bit different from other agencies because of the types of cases they work.

Most of the BCA's work involves investigations rather than enforcement. In other words, a BCA agent may investigate a homicide, an internet crime or a missing person case, but agents are rarely dispatched to an ongoing situation. Agents will wear cameras when taking part in a known enforcement situation or executing a search warrant. The cameras will also be helpful for capturing relevant statements that are currently only documented in agent notes.

According to Minnesota law (Minnesota Statutes, section 13.825), the resulting video is private unless it captures a use of deadly force. The subject of any body-camera video can view it, but it remains private from others under the law in order to protect the privacy of the people who have interactions with law enforcement.

Both Minnesota data practices laws and the BCA data retention schedule have rules about how long to keep the video. For example, video related to homicide investigations will be kept indefinitely, while other videos would be maintained a shorter time depending on the law and policies.

Adding video to the evidence can help bring clarity to fast-moving situations and aid investigation. Moreover, equipping BCA agents with body-worn cameras will bring an added layer of transparency and accountability.