After eight years of study, Madison could take its first major step toward joining the growing number of U.S. cities that equip their police officers with body-worn cameras.
The decision pits Madison’s most liberal activists, who view the cameras as a poor way to build trust with the community and hold bad officers accountable, against the city’s more establishment left, who say the cameras will provide more transparency to police interactions.
Council president Syed Abbas and Police Chief Shon Barnes, both of whom support the cameras, on Monday predicted a close vote Tuesday by the 20-member City Council on whether to launch a body-camera pilot program. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway would have the power to break a tie, but she has repeatedly refused to stake out a position on the technology. Her chief of staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The city’s police union has long supported the cameras. Currently only the city’s SWAT team and motorcycle officers use them, and Madison police squad cars have long been equipped with dashboard-mounted cameras.
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The resolution on the council’s Tuesday agenda would approve 48 cameras for officers in the city’s North District, one of the city’s six police districts, for a yearlong pilot project. The pilot would require the city to try to implement at least some of the recommendations made by its most recent committee to study cameras, including making the pilot “a rigorous, randomized controlled trial” of body cameras.
The council had already approved $83,000 for purchasing the cameras but police now anticipate it could get the cameras on loan from a manufacturer, in which case that money would be used for other needs related to the pilot, such as processing and storing video.
Body-worn camera critics on the council have of late pointed to questions about how any future, wider camera program would be paid for and whether enough groundwork has been laid to launch the North Side pilot, such as by adopting the recommendations of the Body-Worn Camera Feasibility Review Committee.
That committee in January 2021 released a report that recommended any citywide camera program be contingent on nine actions or policy changes by the city, police department or Dane County District Attorney’s Office, including one requiring the DA’s office — over which the city has no control — be “committed to measures sufficient to prevent an overall increase in charging rates and criminalization in low-level offenses caused by MPD (body-worn camera) implementation.”
The resolution on Tuesday’s agenda “provides no information on the scope and purpose of such a pilot, what information we expect to learn from the pilot or on what measures it will be evaluated,” Ald. Grant Foster, District 15, said in a Monday blog post explaining why he will vote against it. “Perhaps most importantly, the resolution fails to identify the expected costs of full implementation of body-worn cameras in Madison and how this may exacerbate the structural deficit we find ourselves in.”
Barnes described the cameras as a way to provide an accurate record of the way police and citizens behave when they interact, while emphasizing that “there is no panacea for community trust-building.”
He pointed to a Jan. 7 report from the U.S. Justice Department that found that as of 2016, 80% of large departments, meaning those with at least 500 officers, had acquired the cameras, while 47% of smaller departments had.
“Everyone can’t be wrong,” he said. “There must be some effectiveness to body-worn cameras.”
That same federal report notes the lack of definitive evidence on the impact of body cameras. A review of available research showed no consistent or statistically significant effect of the cameras on improving officer safety, increasing the quality of evidence, reducing civilian complaints or reducing police agency liability, the DOJ says, although it does reference five body-worn cameras programs in the United Kingdom and the United States that showed “promising” results.
Tuesday’s resolution has seven council sponsors, including Tag Evers of the far-left Progressive Dane party.
Your letters to the Wisconsin State Journal: $10M could have paid for cameras
$10M could have paid for cameras — Jim Graves
The nearly $10 million spent by the city of Madison settling questionable police shootings of civilians likely would have gone a long way toward putting a body camera on every cop.
Of more importance, a life or two might have been saved.
Doctors must offer legal medical care — Helena Tsotsis
A medical provider has to do what is legal. If this provider objects to the law, then he or she needs to get out of the position of doing the procedure — period.
Pharmacists who can’t morally prescribe the “morning after pills” need to work for religious institutions or inpatient programs where this would not arise. Doctors who can’t morally perform an abortion should get out of obstetrics.
If the patient has come to a decision with her (in this case) primary provider that this pill or procedure is what is best for her, the other providers have no right to stop it.
If the providers can’t morally stomach it, then they need to seek other employment.
Helena Tsotsis, Madison
Radical partisans drive the debate — Mark Condon
In a recent letter to the editor, a writer accused the “left” of hypocrisy for expressing outrage at the deaths of refugee children detained at the border but ignoring deaths caused by the MS-13 gang. The writer may be a Fox News viewer because pundit Tucker Carlson made this point the week before.
Carlson claimed progressives ignore MS-13 just because President Donald Trump referred to them as “animals.” This would be laughable except that many Fox viewers parrot “alternative facts” spoon fed to them. Children dying because of public policy — that’s the issue. MS-13 crimes are horrible, but those crimes are being used to distract and disguise the truth.
We all endanger our democracy by refusing to use the critical thinking skills God or nature gave us. Propaganda posing as truth is the glue that strengthens authoritarianism, whether it emerges on the right or left.
This problem exists on the left’s fringes, too. Here in Madison, chuckleheads on the far left interrupt school board meetings or prevent conservatives from speaking on campus. But thoughtless radicalism is mainstreamed on the right because of a right-wing media platform. The center right no longer exists. The center left is endangered but not dead — yet. Our problems are too severe to let endless partisanship dictate the debate.
State gun laws are too weak — Janel Hebl
We can all be grateful to Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers. He helped expose the weakness of our gun laws in Wisconsin.
It was reported that he entered another legislator’s office with a concealed weapon to discuss an unrelated matter. He disregarded a “no guns allowed sign” that was posted outside her office. (Concealed carry is permitted in the Capitol but not in individual offices if signs are posted). Rep. Sortwell has not disputed doing so. He only stated that his “constituents don’t care.”
According to state law, a person must leave the premises where such signs are displayed after also being issued a verbal warning, which is what Rep. Sortwell did. I think many people would agree that the sign should have been warning enough. Is it OK for a person to enter a school, place of worship, a bar or restaurant that posts such a sign while possessing a gun? Sadly, it appears so. The person with the gun just has to leave if someone tells him or her to leave.
I guess Rep. Sortwell was right when he told that legislative assistant that the sign was “silly.”
Thank you, Rep. Sortwell, for bringing this to our attention.
Trump is afraid of the NRA — Ed Carroll
The one thing President Donald Trump had going for him was his supposed reliance on himself. He has his own money and was supposed to be the president who would not cave to special interests. He could do what is right for the country.
Here we are waking up to yet another gun massacre, this time in Virginia Beach. What does Trump focus on? North Korea, a border wall crisis he created, and abortion. (How about focusing on the right for children and adults who have already been born?)
While our fellow countrymen and women continue to get killed by guns at crazy rates compared to other countries, President Trump does nothing. Zero. Zilch. He is a coward and afraid of the National Rifle Association.
While I did not vote for President Trump, when he was elected I thought this one important issue — gun safety and putting sensible gun protection regulation in place — is a thing he could do. He could fight the NRA special interest.
But instead he cowers before them. President Trump is the definition of a coward.