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Body cams for officers on hold

The Alexandria Police Department's decision to have officers wear body cameras has been put on pause — at least until the budgeting can be worked out.

At the Alexandria City Council's Monday meeting, Police Chief Rick Wyffels talked about the body cam policy he put together, a process that took about a year and included input from the council, officers, the city attorney, the League of Minnesota Cities and the public.

Wyffels asked the council to pass a motion of support for the portable camera policy. He described it as an "insurance plan" for the city that could help avoid potential lawsuits.

He said he needed to know where the council stood on the issue before he would order any cameras.

"You can't be half in or half out," he said.

The council, however, didn't take any action.

State law requires public input on the policy but does not require the council's approval. The money for the cameras, however, does.

Under a five-year contract that's being considered, Wyffels said the cost of putting cameras in squad cars, on taser guns and on the uniforms of 18 officers would amount to about $45,000 the first year and $35,000 a year for the next four years.

The cameras would all be integrated into a new system that seamlessly allows all the data to work together, Wyffels explained.

The city could also opt for a cheaper system of $35,000 per year but it wouldn't include any squad car cameras, Wyffels said. Right now, the department's budget includes spending $7,500 a year on those cameras — an expense that could be avoided if the city choose the $45,000 option, he said.

Council members supported the concept of body cameras.

Todd Jensen said he hasn't heard any negative comments about them.

Bob Kuhlman said he was glad Wyffels was looking into body cams because they could provide visual evidence in prosecuting crimes and support an officer's version of events.

Virgil Batesole said that the council hasn't made a decision on how much to spend on body cams but will take Wyffels' recommendations seriously and urgently.

A public hearing on the body cam policy drew one speaker, Darrell Johnson of Alexandria, who asked how long it would take for the public to get access to the body cam information.

Wyffels said if the video is from an active investigation, it wouldn't be made public until after the investigation is complete.

Another public meeting on Aug. 20 at the police station drew 10 people who expressed positive comments about body cams.

Police officers in schools

An Alexandria police officer will once again serve as a school resource officer at Alexandria Area High School and Discovery Middle School this school year, pending final approval from the school board.

The council approved the contract for 2018-2019 that contains no significant changes from last year, Wyffels said. The total cost to the school district is $115,147, which will go into the city's general fund.

The officers will work at the schools for six hours every day from Sept. 4, 2018 through June 4, 2019. Additional officers will be furnished during hours of heavy vehicle traffic, as determined by the police department.

Legislative priorities

Passing a significant bonding bill is a priority for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities in the 2019 Minnesota legislative session, according to Elizabeth Wefel, a coalition lobbyist.

She presented the coalition's annual report to the council.

For the bonding bill, the coalition will continue to focus on water and wastewater infrastructure, Wefels said. Other priorities for the next session: Pushing for an increase in local government aid; addressing the child care shortage; and establishing additional funding for city streets.

The coalition will continue to monitor the "Corridors of Commerce" street project awards to make sure they're fair to Greater Minnesota, Wefel said. She said that the Legislature faced many obstacles in the last session:

• "Bad blood" as a result of Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of legislative operating funds last year.

• A razor-thin majority for the GOP in the Senate, which made passage of bills difficult.

• The controversy over the president of the Senate, Michelle Fischbach, who was also serving as lieutenant governor.

• The fact that 2018 is an election year for House seats and the governor's office.

HRA levy request

The council approved the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority's request to levy $255,320 in 2019, which is less than the $261,087 it is allowed to levy under state law.

The HRA has two main arms of service in Alexandria — the Viking Towers and Woodhill Townhomes, which are federally funded public housing units targeted for individuals and families with very low to low incomes, according to Director Jeff Hess.

The tax levy, Hess said, supports community development and redevelopment programs such as new home construction, repairing existing homes and rental units, rental inspections and low-income housing tax credits.

Hess said that the HRA conducted about 800 rental inspections last year. Jensen asked Hess to provide the city with inspection numbers from previous years and Hess agreed.

In 2017, the HRA budget was $234,941 and it ended the year with $50,487 in reserves. In 2018, the HRA budget was $235,344. Wages and benefits account for about 64 percent of the budget, a decrease from 2017's 71 percent.

Street project updates

The feedback from Douglas County fair-goers about the parking lot and entrance road improvements at the fairgrounds was "overwhelmingly positive," according to City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven's written report to the council.

The project is a joint effort between the city and the Douglas County Agricultural Association.

The first layer of asphalt, or wear course, and pavement is being placed this week, said Schoonhoven. The striping started Monday. Touch-up turf restoration and other minor items will also be completed soon.

Schoonhoven also updated the council on the Agnes Boulevard project. The trail concrete work and bituminous paving is finished and phase one is nearly complete so traffic to that area will open this week.

All curb and gutter is in and the first lift of bituminous base course is complete. Most of the adjacent slope grading and topsoil work is finished.

Work has started on the storm sewer installation for phase two.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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