Madison City Council to take up police body cameras — again | Local News

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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. 







Shon Barnes (copy) (copy)

Barnes










Syed Abbas (copy)

Abbas




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.”







Grant Foster (copy)

Foster


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.”

Madison has 486 sworn officer positions.

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.



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