Madison Common Council to accept final report, policy on police-worn body cameras

MADISON, Wis. — Madison’s Common Council will vote whether or not to accept the final report and policy on police worn body cameras at its meeting tonight.

Item #80 on council’s agenda includes the final report by the Police Body-Worn Camera Feasibility Review Committee. The near 60-page document highlights the pros and cons of having Madison police officers adopt a body camera pilot program. It also details accounts from a handful of local community groups speaking for and against the idea.

District 6 alder and Public Safety Review Committee member Brian Benford said, “The general sentiment is that they’re good, but if you really dive deeper and look at some of the peripheral impacts, negative impacts of body worn cameras, then as a community we have to do our due diligence and hit the brakes on this and really take a look at this.”

The issues surrounding body worn cameras in Madison have caused the topic to be tabled and discussed a number of times over the years.

Council members will not vote on whether or not they will implement a body camera pilot program in Madison yet. At it’s Tuesday meeting, members will only vote to accept the information laid out in the report.

The report goes into the advantages of police wearing body cameras including increased transparency for law enforcement, increased accountability for police misconduct and solving cases faster.

The cons outline the disproportionate impact it could have on marginalized communities, perceptual biases, invasion of privacy and abuse of their purpose.

“We believe there were many aspects of the report that were flawed,” Benford said.  “There was much more consideration and the PSRC voted that as a City of Madison at this time, we shouldn’t explore implementing body worn cameras.”

The topic of body worn cameras has also been in front of the Equal Opportunities Committee several times for review.

“It also includes a lot of the opinions and pieces from the community members we met with. We met and heard from about 18 community groups and we reached out to even more,” said EOC member Luke Schieve. “We also listed a bunch of caveats and ways that we all agreed on for how body cameras should be implemented if they indeed do go forward in Madison.”

Both committees agree that if a body cam pilot program were to be implemented in Madison, many other policies outlined in the report need to be met first. Those caveats include giving the Independent Police Monitor and Police Civilian Oversight Board full access to the footage, having an electronic file-sharing system for the stored video and ensuring that the Dane County District Attorney review the video before making charges in relevant cases.

The report specifically states that “If the City, MPD, and the DA’s Office fail to fulfill these preconditions, then the Committee unanimously agrees that BWCs should not be implemented in Madison.”

“If we are to pursue this as a City, we have to initiate all of these other policies around this technology,” Benford said.

Benford said he would first like to see how Madison’s new police chief and the formation of the Civilian Oversight Board work to address policing issues before implementing a costly body camera program. He said coming out of the pandemic, he would like to see that money used towards other valuable resources and wait to vote on implementing a body camera pilot program at this time. Benford also said other issues need to be considered before the pilot program comes to fruition like cost, storage space of the video, and whether or not the bodycam pilot program can work as a tool, not a solution to policing.

The PSRC voted in March that Common Council should not pursue the pilot program. The EOC also voted in March that if the City adopted a body camera pilot program, that all recommendations outlined in the final report be met.