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

MADISON, Wis. — Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes is frustrated but not backing down from plans to test a body camera program.

The city’s Public Safety Review Committee put the pilot program on hold Wednesday night.

The city budgeted $83,000 to buy 48 cameras for officers on the north side to wear to see if they’d work citywide.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Ald. Patrick Heck expressed worries about funding, calling the program “not ready for primetime.” Ald. Brian Benford said the money would be better spent on helping communities of color.

“When so many people, especially disproportionately (Black and Indigenous people of color) folks are unhoused, lack health care, lack a sustainable living wage jobs and are struggling to receive adequate schooling, it is worth asking whether investing limited municipal resources in body cameras will address the root problems fueling police violence and white supremacy,” Benford said during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

Barnes called Benford’s argument not well placed.

“You can always spend money on something else,” he said. “The question is: What are we spending our money on now? We’re spending our money and time on looking at complaints, on prosecutions, times that can be reduced.”

Barnes said the cameras could save a lot of time during investigations and would also help hold officers accountable for any wrongdoing they may conduct. He hopes to hold a public hearing on the pilot program sometime this year.

In July, the city council accepted a 57-page report from the Police Body-Worn Camera Feasibility Review Committee studying the issue in depth. The report concluded body cameras should only be implemented if the city, police department and district attorney’s office take a number of steps ranging from giving an independent police monitor and the Police Civilian Oversight Board full access to footage to ensuring the district attorney reviews all relevant video before making charging decisions.