By Bob Zientara

The Barron Police Department will be equipped with eight new body cameras for police officers to use in the field, following a vote Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, by the City Council.

The department requested that the city make an initial payment of $3,665 for the equipment, which includes a dock for uploading video from the units and storing it in a cloud-based platform that can be accessed by officers and the courts.

The total cost is $29,237.

The first installment is included in the current Police Department budget, council members were told. Succeeding payments will need to be worked into future budgets.

Council member Kevin Haller, representing the Police Committee, told the council that the purchase agreement calls for the cameras to be replaced every two and one-half years, which means Barron will get a new set of cameras midway through the purchasing program, early in the year 2022.

“With the speed that technology evolves, we can expect that kind of turnover,” said Officer Nathan Emmons, who represented the Police Department at the meeting.

Made by Arizona-based Axon Enterprise, Inc., the cameras also come with a docking station that will upload all camera content to the cloud, categorize each video, and set up the storage time.

“We won’t have to make DVDs of our videos, any longer,” Emmons said. “We can send (videos) directly to the District Attorney’s office from a platform called Evidence.com

The department already uses Axon-manufactured Taser guns, he added.

“Besides the obvious benefits, what are the not-so-obvious benefits?” asked council member Mike Dietrich. “And how does (the camera) help in court?” he added, directing that question to Andrew Harrington, city attorney.

“Having a visual aid like a video … can be a big benefit to trying a case,” Harrington said.

As a court-appointed defense lawyer, Harrington added that “defense attorneys routinely review these videos and often find it helpful in advising clients whether to proceed for trial or not.”

Emmons said the cameras will help the Police Department head off potential issues with unruly and/or violent situations, as well as arrest or custody situations involving mentally impaired persons.

“It’s not just for officer safety but also for liability,” he said. “Each camera can record up to 10 hours of video.”

With officers in contact with detainees over long periods of time – such as driving to mental health facilities – the cameras can be important, Emmons added.

“Do other police departments use this (Axon) brand (of camera)?” asked council member Pete Olson.

Emmons said Turtle Lake and Rice Lake do, and Chetek is looking at the same equipment.

Conflict of interest issue

The council discussed a potential conflict of interest for Bjugstad Excavating, which is working on a federally-funded water tower project for the city.

The company does business with council member Rod Nordby, and company owner Darren Bjugstad serves as Barron town chair. The township employs council member Haller for roadwork and snow plowing.

Bjugstad noted those relationships on a federally-required disclosure form that was filled out by water tower subcontractors.

Dave Rasmussen, who works for MSA Professional Services, the Rice Lake consulting firm that oversees the water tower project, alerted the city to the issue last month.

Harrington was asked to give an opinion on the issue. He told the council that none of the statute provisions regarding conflict of interest “appear to apply to the Barron case,” and that state and federal case law “seems to support that contention.”

The statute does not prohibit “reasonable compensation” to Bjugstad Excavating, he added.

After listening to the opinion, the council approved payment vouchers submitted by Bjugstad and Maguire Iron, the Sioux Falls, S.D. company that is heading up the water tower project.

Invitation to Somali event

In other action at its regular monthly meeting Oct. 8, the Barron City Council:

• Was invited to attend an event next month that addresses the issues of Somali families who live in Barron. Local resident (and Barron Area School District employee) Isaak Mohamed said the “Separated Somali Families” community support event will take place at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Barron Area Community Center.

“A couple of families in Barron have been separated a long time,” Mohamed said. “(One of the parents) has lived in Barron for six years, and another has been here seven years. Their children are still in Africa, (and) the immigration process has slowed.”

Council member Maureen Tollman said the event will include a documentary produced by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

• Approved liquor operator’s licenses for Edward Deacon, Mariah Munger, Kimberly Swenddal, Angel Anderson and Amber Nickell.

•Approved a request for Mayor Ron Fladten to attend the annual conference of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities from Oct. 22 through 25, 2019.

• Approved Assistant Police Chief Mike Freeman’s request to attend a Wisconsin Police Association training conference Feb. 9 through 12, 2020.

• Hired two part-time police officers, Sarai Fisher and Dylan Feiertag.

Attending the meeting were council members Tollman, Paul Solie, Haller, Olson, Dietrich, Nordby and Mayor Fladten. Also attending were City Attorney Harrington, City Clerk-Treasurer Kelli Rsmussen, and City Administrator Liz Jacobson.