Committee rejects pilot plan for police body cameras

Committee rejects pilot plan for police body cameras

The Community Policing and Body Camera Ad Hoc Committee rejected a proposed pilot program with a 4-2 vote that would have put body cameras on Madison police officers in one of five districts starting next year.

The Madison City Council will take up the issue at the Sept. 15 meeting. The council could adopt the recommendation of the committee and reject the body camera plan or go against the recommendation and institute the plan.

The committee made the decision to reject the proposal after hearing the input of community members over the last several months. Many of the comments raised doubts about the trust community members have in the police.

Committee member Percy Brown Jr. said community members expressed concerns about privacy and the potential for a “huge invasion of privacy.” He also said individuals expressed concerns that video of the body cameras could be manipulated by the police.

“The focus groups and the information that was gleaned out of those in-depth conversations absolutely pointed to some concerns,” Capt. Kristen Roman of the Madison Police Department said. “The work that is left to be done is to continue to identify and explore ways that we can close the gap in terms of trust between the community and police.”

The rejection of the proposal comes after the use of body cameras by police has increased dramatically in the last year.

“Frankly we were very surprised,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. “We support the proliferation of body cameras throughout the state and we’re disappointed. We think this was a missed opportunity to take a concrete first step in the direction of building accountability in the law enforcement profession here in Wisconsin and by extension the credibility and trust that goes along with that.”

Body cameras are already in use by officers on the streets of Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Detroit. In a much smaller community, officers in Wisconsin Dells have been wearing body cameras for more than a year.

“The advisory committee here in Madison, their decision is all the more surprising when you consider that just last week the city of Milwaukee announced they are going to equip all of their officers with body cameras,” Palmer said.

The use of body cameras by police have been a work in progress as agencies have tried to determine when the cameras should be activated and if they can be turned off if officers are interacting with a confidential informant or victim of a violent crime. The question of storing the video data is also an issue.

Committee member Veronica Lazo said they are not completely dismissing the idea of body camera use by Madison police, but she said issues related to trust must be addressed first.