As Madison weighs whether to give officers body cams, police department set to hold community meetings on technology

MADISON, Wis. — It’s a conversation we’ve been hearing for years here in Madison — will the police department begin using body-worn cameras?

The police departments in eight of Wisconsin’s ten largest cities — Milwaukee, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, Appleton, Eau Claire, Oshkosh and Janesville — currently have body cameras, according to a News 3 Now tally, but the debate continues in the state’s capital city. Waukesha remains the only other large city in the state not to have implemented the cameras.

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A News 3 Now analysis found police departments in eight of Wisconsin’s ten largest cities have implemented body-worn cameras for officers.

Some community leaders, including NAACP President Greg Jones, are in favor of equipping officers with the cameras.

“(They are) used to improve the process, enhance trust between community and law enforcement officials and most importantly streamline the process,” Jones said.

Other city leaders, including District 6 Alder Brian Benford, are against them.

“If we are really depending on technology on a camera to build trust and accountability, then we failed,” Benford said.

Right now, Madison remains the largest city in the state without them.

Last month, the Madison Common Council voted to push back a proposal to start a pilot program that would involve using body cameras for one year.

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes has stressed the technology is essential in building community trust, but Benford believes money to build that trust needs to go elsewhere first.

“I would question if that money (is) better used in vital community services where we are really suffering because of the pandemic,” he said.

Jones believes body cameras are an essential step in the process.

“I think it’s an equalizer in terms of just one facet of the engagement between the community and police,” he said.

As it awaits a decision in April from the council, the police department is hoping to help educate community members about what a body-worn camera program would look like. The first meeting is scheduled for Thursday at Memorial Union.

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