All Cottage Grove police officers should be equipped with body cameras by the end of March.
The city will purchase 42 VISTA body-worn cameras, which are GPS and Wi-Fi enabled and can provide up to 12 hours of high-definition recording, at a cost of $21,945.
The portable devices are part of a $228,000 overhaul of the city's public safety camera system. Vendor WatchGuard Video will also install 10 new cameras and microphones in six police interview rooms and replace the nearly decade-old squad car cameras with 21 new systems that can be synced up to the body cameras.
WatchGuard is one of two bids that were presented to Cottage Grove City Council at a Nov. 20 workshop meeting. Public safety officers also asked council to consider a second option that would not include body cameras.
Director of public safety and police chief Pete Koerner said it made sense to buy the body cameras now.
"We've been planning to upgrade our in-squad cameras as well," Koerner said. "We're looking to do a whole package at once."
He said he expects the money to be part of the final budget that will be adopted by City Council on Dec. 4.
The move comes a year late. The city drafted its own body camera policy in 2017, after public hearings and review of new state laws that governed which body camera data was private. Police officers in Hastings and Woodbury and deputies in the Washington County Sheriff's Office were outfitted with body cameras that year.
"Body cameras were always on the horizon," Capt. Gwen Martin, deputy director of public safety, said.
Martin blamed the delay partly on their former vendor, MobileVision. The company designed their current system, L3. The 10-year-old system was due for a replacement. Martin said they planned to add body cameras when that happened.
MobileVision failed to deliver a new L3, however. Late last year, Martin said they learned that MobileVision had been purchased by Safe Fleet. The city considered a bid from one of Safe Fleet's other brands, Coban. They were nearly $100,000 more than WatchGuard Video.
"We were waiting on L3," Martin said. "We kept getting pushed out."
The delay may have worked in their favor, Martin said. In the past two years, body camera manufacturers have added more advanced, user-friendly redaction software that can provide privacy safeguards through automatic detection of faces, voices, vehicles and license plates. Select images can be blurred by clicking on the pixilation feature.
Data recorded by the cameras is subject to the Data Practices Act and is private unless the subject releases it.
"When people start asking for that information we need to have the ability to redact private information," Martin said. "That was going to be very labor intensive."
The city would have had to hire a full-time employee who would manually process the data, she said.