MPD chief touts technology of body cameras, some community members express concerns

Madison, Wis. – City leaders, Madison police, and community members gathered Thursday night for a discussion on the impact of body-worn cameras on policing.

The event, Share the Table, was led by Axon, a technology company looking to sell their body cams to MPD.

The company’s VP of Community Impact, Regina Holloway, said the goal of the discussion is to get people to learn about the technical capabilities of body cams but also how the policy around their use affects how helpful they can be.

“At the end of the day the community is the customer and they have a right to this information,” said Holloway, who has experience in civilian oversight. “I really feel that we have a duty to provide this information.”

RELATED: Madison Common Council pushes proposal on body-worn camera pilot program

MPD Chief Shon Barnes said he partnered with Axon, which currently supplies MPD’s tasers, because as the product’s experts, they were best equipped to answer questions from the public directly.

In response, many in attendance shared concerns about who decides when cameras are recording and talked about the need for repercussions when protocol isn’t followed.

Axon’s body cams, like others, have features that would take some of those concerns out of the equation, but only if police departments choose to opt-in.

Those features include automatic recording when a weapon is drawn, and the ability to access video without audio up to 2 minutes before activating a recording.

Barnes, who has implemented the use of body cams in two different police departments before coming to Madison, said he is fully on board with the evolved technology.

“If I’m going to buy a car, I’m going to try and go with the Bentley if I can instead of the Cadillac,” he said. “I think our community deserves every feature that whatever piece of technology that we purchase from has.”

Barnes said his department is still working through developing a policy around body camera use and welcomes input, but also said there is enough structure in place to get the program started with room for growth.

“It probably won’t be perfect, but it certainly will be enough to get through the pilot,” he said. “Remember the experimentation phase is just that. What is it that we need to know in order to implement this fully if that day comes?”

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

The Madison Common Council has plans to make a decision on whether to move forward with the pilot program on April 19th.

They have already approved $83,000 in their 2021 Capital Budget to buy 48 cameras to try out with officers on Madison’s north side.