Body cameras are coming to St. Louis County deputies, activists raise policy concerns

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Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 8:00 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2021 at 8:04 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN. (CBS 3 Duluth) - Nationwide, people are calling for transparency and accountability when it comes to law enforcement, and the Northland is no exception.

In some cases, officer-worn body cams can answer questions a report might not be able to.

Now, the St. Louis County Sheriff’s office is taking steps to add body cameras to their force for the first time.

“The body-worn camera program in St. Louis County has been in the works for quite some time, and we are finally getting to the end,” said St. Louis County Undersheriff Jason Lukovsky.

The plan was presented to the St. Louis County Board on Tuesday and has a price tag of $800,000 to outfit more than 100 sworn officers.

“We’ve done our due diligence. We’ve taken the opportunity to do our research and ensure that our current technologies are gonna interface correctly,” said Lukovsky.

If authorized, these cameras will be compatible with the department’s squad car dash cams and tasers, making footage easier to access and all in one place.

And after years of conversation and research, Lukovsky and the department agree now is the time.

“I don’t think there is any other time than the present. It’s accepted by our staff. It’s clear that the public supports it, wants it and in many ways thought we should have had it sooner,” said Lukovsky.

For Northland activist groups, they agree these cameras are a long time coming, especially following last year’s deputy-involved shooting that killed 19-year-old Estavon Ellioff.

Local policies still need to be hashed out, but now, a new question arises. When will deputies be required to record, and will they be accountable for not recording when they should?

These questions weigh heavy on the mind of Nathaniel Coward, co-executive director of VEMA, a civil rights group on the Iron Range.

“If you want that trust, you have to be transparent. There is no other way behind it. You gotta be honest and transparent. People have to be able to see what you are doing so they can trust what you are doing,” said Coward.

Despite his concerns, Coward hopes these cameras are a step in the right direction in changing the narrative and builds a foundation of trust with law enforcement for years to come.

Before the cameras can be purchased, they have to be approved by the St. Louis County board next month.

This will also include a time for public comment.

Lukovsky said if everything goes according to plan, they hope to put the cameras to use by spring of 2022.

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