Madison Common Council pushes proposal on body-worn camera pilot program to April meeting

MADISON, Wis. — After nearly an hour of public comments and discussion, the Madison Common Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to re-refer a proposal to implement a body-worn camera pilot program for the city’s police department to its April 19 meeting, delaying a decision on whether to move forward with the proposal.

The one-year pilot program calls for 48 body cameras for officers in the city’s North District. The council approved $83,000 in its 2021 capital budget for the program.

Numerous speakers argued for and against moving forward with the pilot program, which the city’s Public Safety Review Committee put on hold last week.

Among the speakers was Dane County NAACP President Greg Jones, who supports the program.

“Body-worn cameras will benefit not only the public but also the police department,” he said. “Let this relationship between communities of color, men and women in our police departments work positively, not negatively.”

Alix Shabazz, an opponent of body-worn cameras, called the proposal a measure of police control rather than accountability.

“I find it completely despicable that in the middle of a global pandemic, we as a community are considering any amount of money on a program that’s not only not essential but actually going to cause more harm to Black residents,” Shabazz said.

During last week’s meeting, committee members voiced concerns about the program’s funding and argued the money could be better spent helping communities of color.

RELATED: Madison police chief hopeful body-worn camera pilot program can still happen after committee votes it down

In an interview with News 3 Now last week, Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said he was frustrated by the committee’s decision but hoped the pilot would move forward. He also said he hoped to hold a public hearing on the issue sometime this year.

Multiple attempts to install body-worn cameras on police officers in the city have failed in recent years.

A 2021 report from the Police Body-Worn Camera Feasibility Review Committee concluded they should only be implemented if a number of steps were undertaken before the program was launched. Those steps ranged from making sure an independent police monitor and the Police Civilian Oversight Board have full access to video to making sure the Dane County District Attorney’s Office undertakes measures to prevent overall charging rates for low-level offenses from climbing as a result of the program.