Thursday, April 28, 2016

The City Spot Café: Body Cams and Data Classification

What you need to know about body cams right now, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team. 

 Definition: Body-worn video cameras, also known as “body cams,” are closed-circuit television video recording systems often placed on the front of a law enforcement officer’s uniform.

Plain-language explanation: Body cams are typically worn by law enforcement to record their interactions with the public or to gather video evidence at crime scenes, and have the potential to increase both officer and citizen accountability. Body cams are notable because they can provide a first-person perspective and a more complete chain of evidence than, say, a dash cam.

In the news: Several high profile cases of officer-involved shootings have made the use of body cameras a hot topic. Here in Minnesota, some local governments and law enforcement agencies are choosing to adopt body cam use, or are in the process of figuring out how to pay for them, while others are waiting for clarification from the Legislature on how data from body cams should be handled before deciding whether to adopt this new technology.

Pros: Police-worn body cameras have the potential to provide evidence when investigating crimes and prosecuting criminals, and to strengthen trust of citizens in law enforcement by increasing the accountability between peace officers and the public. The data collected in use-of-force incidents can help determine whether an officer used appropriate force and clarify conflicting accounts of events. The data from body cameras can also help protect peace officers who are falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Cons: The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) generally classifies this video data as public. A peace officer can never know when a routine interaction will become important or controversial, and in order to ensure that body cams record important information the cameras will likely be turned on in many situations that ultimately do not result in criminal investigations such as traffic stops, welfare checks, and medical assistance calls—i.e. those really crummy days when you’d rather not have your cameo made available for all to see. The MGDPA provides privacy protections for certain crime victims, witnesses, minors, and vulnerable adults, but the video data collected on the vast majority of citizens who would otherwise be protected by these privacy protections or are not part of a criminal investigation would be available to anyone who requested it.

In addition to privacy concerns, departments using body cameras must have the resources available for collecting and storing these video files, and for responding to requests for video data. This cost may be too expensive for small cities, and larger cities with lots of video data may need to hire new staff for managing the data.  

League position: Local law enforcement agencies should be allowed to decide whether to equip law enforcement officers with body cams and be given the flexibility to decide how they are used in the field. In order to protect the privacy rights of citizens, to maintain trust between law enforcement and the public, and to protect all crime victims, the MGDPA should be amended to classify video data as “private data on individuals” or “nonpublic data” unless it is part of an active criminal investigation, in which case it should be classified as “active criminal data.” This classification of active criminal data balances the interests of transparency and privacy by allowing the subjects of data to access video and share it with the public if they desire. (See definitions of data classifications in MN law here)

Video data involving the use of force by a peace officer that causes at least demonstrable bodily harm should be classified as public data despite an active investigation to ensure public accountability by law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies should also have the discretion to make public any videos that would otherwise be classified as private data on individuals or nonpublic data when necessary to dispel suspicion or unrest, such as in cases when an accusation of misbehavior is made but no “demonstrable bodily harm” was involved.

Resources: The League of Minnesota Cities has developed a memo and model policy for police departments considering the use of body cameras. You can learn more about body cam legislation being discussed at the Capitol in the Cities Bulletin.

This information has been compiled by Amber Eisenschenk, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1227. 

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The City Spot Café: Dillon's Rule—Cities and the State

What you need to know about "Dillon’s Rule" right now, served up by the LMC Research and Information Service team.

Definition: Dillon's Rule is the go-to for deciding what cities can and cannot do—and explains a lot about the relationship between Minnesota cities and the state Legislature. A rule that Judge John F. Dillon put forth in 1872, this language holds that a strict or literal interpretation of the law should be used in determining city authority.

Here it is, in all it's 1872 glory:

“A city is a municipal corporation and possesses and exercise the following powers, and no others: First, those powers granted in express words; Second, those powers necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers expressly granted; third, those powers essential to the accomplishment of the declared objects and purposes of the corporation, not simply convenient, but indispensable.”  
—John F. Dillon, Commentaries on the Law of Municipal Corporations (3rd ed.) (1881) [Emphasis is Dillon's own.]

Plain-language translation: A common problem that arises in a discussion of what cities can and cannot do is the interpretation of how law applies in actual practice. Will the courts allow cities to exercise only those powers that the law strictly spells out (like providing water, protecting people and property) or will they allow a city to do anything reasonably related to that authority (seizing illegally sold liquor, requiring insurance for certain license holders). Traditionally, the courts solved this problem by referring to Dillon's Rule—i.e. the outline of city power includes that which is laid out in state law or those powers that go hand-in-hand with state laws. It's all about boundaries.

Dillon’s Rule in Minnesota is established in the state Constitution, which gives the Legislature the power to give or take away city authority. (Theoretically, they could even abolish cities, gasp!) 

In the news: This rule was mentioned in recent news coverage of why local governments may benefit from lobbying services at the Capitol—like those the League provides. Because the state plays an important role in determining city authority and responsibility, it is important that local government advocates be present to serve as a resource for legislators and state agencies.

Pros: It helps city councils, staff, and everyone understand what cities can and cannot do. In one old case, a city in another state actually printed their own money to pay for some new roads. Not a good idea. That's in violation of Dillon’s Rule, and the city had to pay all the money back to all who ‘bought’ city money.

Cons: Sometimes the limits in Dillon’s Rule make it hard to do new things or small things. For example, cities typically cannot hold fundraisers even to purchase updated and accessible playground equipment.

League position: Local units of government must have sufficient authority and flexibility to meet the challenges of governing and providing citizens with public services. However, state leaders need to be careful not to give cities the "authority" to perform duties that cities don't have the resources for— i.e. blanket unfunded and underfunded mandates that erode local control and create liability and financial risk for city taxpayers.

Resource: Want additional info on Mr. Dillon and his rule?  Check out page 14 of Chapter One of the Handbook for Minnesota Cities, under the heading "General Powers of a Statutory City."

This information has been compiled by Jeanette Behr, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1228. 

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

Friday, April 15, 2016

City Officials Share Thoughts on the 2016 Annual Conference

The 2016 Annual Conference—June 14-17 in St. Paul—is shaping up to be a one-of-a-kind event as the League partners with the Alliance for Innovation for our first-ever joint annual conference!

What can you expect when attending the 2016 Annual Conference? Two Minnesota city officials involved in the conference planning committee shared their thoughts on how this innovative joint event will impact conference attendees.

Matt Stemwedel, city manager of Coon Rapids, discussed what made past Alliance conferences memorable, and what he plans on taking away from the 2016 Annual Conference.

The Alliance conference is a unique, national event. What do you think this partnership will bring to the 2016 Annual Conference?
Energy! The Alliance conferences always help re-energize my passion for local government. The keynote speakers are thought provoking and challenge your assumptions about how to navigate the future. The breakout sessions are very engaging, while also providing practical information on how to implement new ideas into your community.

This year, the conference will feature educational sessions on local and national topics and trends. What are the benefits of an expanded program?
I think the biggest benefit to Minnesota cities is to hear different perspectives on how communities outside of Minnesota are approaching similar issues. We tend to not look beyond our neighboring communities to address new issues, which can limit our creativity to develop better solutions. At the joint 2016 Annual Conference, you’ll hear about innovative ideas and best practices from across the country, and it forces you to think differently about how those solutions could be implemented in Minnesota.

What do you hope your Minnesota city colleagues will take away from this joint conference?
I believe Minnesota city officials will leave the joint conference feeling excited by the speakers and sessions they have attended and will also have new ideas to bring home to their community.

The 2016 Annual Conference will highlight innovation in St.
Paul and the surrounding area.
Dianne Miller, assistant city administrator with the City of Eagan, shared her hopes for the 2016 Annual Conference, from the perspective of an official who has not attended an Alliance conference.

As a new member, I am really excited to set aside a few days to see firsthand the best examples of innovative local government from across the country. In addition to learning about efforts and strategies I can bring back to Eagan, I am also looking forward to the fantastic field demonstrations and tours highlighting progress and creativity in developments and projects across the Twin Cities. Even though many of the featured projects are right in our backyard, I, for one, have not taken the time to truly experience all of the innovation we have here. The opportunity to interact and learn from others who are passionate about transforming local government will be the proverbial icing on the cake!

Are you excited for the energy and innovation at the 2016 Annual Conference? Don’t forget to register by April 27 and save with early bird pricing!

The Alliance for Innovation is a national organization of cities, counties, and other local governments with a common vision of fostering innovation to advance communities. Find out more.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Liquor Memo Updates That'll Make You Want to Dust Off Your Glad Rags

Pssst. Say, friend. Do requests from breweries or microdistilleries to open a brew pub, taproom, or a cocktail room make you feel like you’ve traveled back to the 1920s? Do folks ask you about selling growlers or spirits off-sale?

When you hear that baloney, do you make for the hills, shouting “23 Skidoo!” rather than see if they’re on the level?

Well Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, the 18th Amendment is long gone, and the newly updated memo “Liquor Licensing and Regulation” and its model licensing ordinance is for you! It’s the cat’s pajamas and can help your city stay on the up and up.

The Legislature made scads of changes to liquor laws last year. They moved laws around pertaining to microdistilleries, brew pubs, and taprooms. If your city’s liquor ordinance refers to Minn. Stat. § 340A.301, chances are you need to consider making some changes, and the included model liquor licensing ordinance is the ticket!

Wondering about how to allow Sunday sales of spirits and growlers? Grab this hotsy-totsy memo and ordinance lickety-split, and all your friends will say, “Now you’re on the trolley!”

The Legislature also got everyone siphoning those Sunday morning mimosas and bloody marys a couple hours earlier, moving the allowable serving start time from 10 a.m. to 8 a.m. Zounds, that’s two hours more the gin mill will be serving giggle water! So much for speaking easy in the speakeasy!

The nifty updated liquor licensing ordinance adds licenses for brew pub off-sale, small brewer off-sale, cocktail rooms, and more, as well as changes due to recodification shenanigans. Whether it’s been a dog’s age since you’ve looked at the city’s liquor ordinance, or you just made changes, grab the updated memo and the League’s model licensing ordinance, give them a gander, and soon you and your constituents will be spifflicated with excitement over all your licensing ordinance has to offer. And how!

This blog post was written by attorney Ed Cadman. Ed gets really into his subject matter, which is why he's such a great attorney. Contact: or (651) 281-1229.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spotted: 2016 Safety & Loss Control Workshops Reach the Halfway Point

This week marks the halfway point for the 2016 Safety & Loss Control Workshops!

League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) staff have been traveling across Minnesota, bringing tips on keeping cities safe and updates on what's new with the Trust. See what's been 'spotted' during the first 2016 workshops:

A snowy morning greeted workshop attendees as they arrived at
The Lodge at Giant's Ridge in Biwabik.

The Lodge served up a delicious breakfast before morning sessions.

What's new with LMCIT? Liam Biever went through coverage 
and LMCIT updates with insurance agents.

What can you do to keep your city's electronic data secure? LMC Assistant 
Technology Services Director Greg Van Wormer shows administrative and 
technology professionals how every city employee can help protect electronic data. 

LMCIT staff collect evaluations from workshop attendees.

Did you miss the first half of the Safety & Loss Control Workshops? You're in luck! There's still time to register for workshops in Brooklyn Center, Rochester, and St. Paul.

What was your favorite part of the 2016 Safety & Loss Control Workshops? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photos taken by LMC Marketing Communications Coordinator Maggie Biever and Assistant Director of Communications for Public Affairs Don Reeder