McFarland police use body cameras; Madison to consider

McFarland police use body cameras; Madison to consider

A discussion over police body cameras is picking up after President Barack Obama said the federal government will pick up the tab for part of them.

Madison police will discuss the issue with the city council Tuesday night, but McFarland police have been using the cameras for nearly two years.

The McFarland Police Department got five body cameras as part of a grant from the state Office of Justice Assistance. Nearly all routine traffic stops and domestic interactions are captured in a first-person view, and hundreds of files live on the McFarland Police Department computers for 120 days, or longer if the video is needed as evidence.

“They have been working out great and the officers like them,” McFarland Police Chief Craig Sherven said.

Sherven said the cameras are not mandatory, but officers use them regularly.

“We encourage officers anytime they are on official business to activate them because you never really know,” Sherven said. “Even if it’s not a volatile situation, this could help an officer if they were accused of being rude or something along those lines.”

Lt. Brian Redman demonstrated that the cameras attach at the chest of the officer, and begin recording within seconds of being open. The small black camera shows a green light when it is rolling, and it is visible on the front of the officer.

“I’ve found that these cameras do a better job videotaping than the squad cameras do,” Redman said. “The video is clearer and the audio is better on these.”

Neither Sherven nor Redman think body cameras are a silver bullet to all police issues, but say this is a step in the right direction.

“I will always believe my police officers before anything else, but when I have video proof of something good or bad it is comforting to know that there will be no second-guessing by anybody,” Redman said. “The video tells the story.”

Sherven said there can be issues with the cameras falling off and the storage can be very costly.

That’s part of the issue in Beloit where they have a dozen cameras, but the chief said they have only been used about a dozen times in three years. Chief Norm Jacobs said officers typically only turn on the cameras in situations where they think the video evidence may be important, but he said they haven’t used the cameras often because of the price of video storage.

The Madison City Council will consider body cameras at a meeting Tuesday night, when the police department presents a report showing the pros and cons of using them, including a $1 million price tag.

Obama announced a plan Monday that would send $75 million across the country to help departments purchase body cameras.