‘The time is now’: Madison alders, police receive dozens of emails from community demanding body cameras

Council has been torn on the issue for years

MADISON, Wis. — Madison Police Chief Victor Wahl and District Nine Alder Paul Skidmore said they have received dozens of emails from community members in the past week demanding the implementation of police-worn body cameras.

Skidmore said he has been trying to get a pilot program started for body cameras for the past four years, but the idea keeps getting struck down by a torn committee vote.

Skidmore said the cameras are useful because in the past, they have “been used to identify faces, identify people saying this is what happened, the police are backing off, that person is smashing windows, that person is beating someone. That’s transparency. That’s not politics.”

Skidmore said there is no downside in this type of transparency and Wahl fully supports the expanded use of body cameras as well. However, the decision does not lie in Wahl’s hands. First it has to get approved by council, which it has still failed to do so.

Skidmore said, “I’ve been trying to get this pilot project for years but there’s a certain faction on the council that’s staunchly opposed to transparency.”

District Five Alder Shiva Bidar has been in opposition of the body cameras in the past. She sent a statement on the issue explaining:

“This is a much more complex issue that it may appear to be. I have listened and followed the lead of our many residents of color, the directly impacted communities, who have been involved in the discussion about body worn cameras. It is easy to see body worn cameras as a panacea but they don’t prevent the awful murders such as George Floyd’s murder. Nor did being on video prevent the beating of Rodney King over 20 years ago. They just shine the light on them. As you will see the recommendation 177 was to form a committee to discuss the feasibility of body worn cameras again now given that we have a full set of comprehensive recommendations, some which have already been implemented and the biggest one, the hiring of an independent auditor, should be in place before the end of 2020. If the new body worn camera feasibility committee concludes we should have body worn cameras, I will happily support it. And most importantly they will provide direction on how they should be implemented in order to not create unintentional harm. I have been a strong advocate for police reform. It is the biggest and most important issue to me in my years on the council. I will continue to do all I can to push for continued transparency, accountability and oversight.”

Wahl said even if we had a unanimous council agreement on body cameras, the next hurdle is cost, especially given the financial toll that COVID-19 has had on the city.

“There’s a dire budget outlook next year so far,” Wahl said. “To add things, to add positions and to add capital expenditures for equipment, supplies and everything that would be needed to go with it including training time is just not easy.”

Skidmore is said he is hoping to present a resolution at the next city council meeting and wants to get a pilot program up and running within a month and a half.

“There is no downside in having this,” he said. “The time is now.”