The bill would make body cam footage not subject to public records law unless the video involves injuries, arrests, deaths or searches.
However, footage taken where someone has reasonable expectation of privacy — like their home — law enforcement would need permission from victims or witnesses in the shot, as well as landlords or property owners.
Critics say that would make it almost impossible to get the majority of body camera footage.
Representative JoCasta Zamarripa worries that withholding footage from the public will degrade their relationship with law enforcement — especially in underrepresented communities. This was the case last year when Milwaukee police wouldn’t release body camera footage of the Syville Smith shooting for months.
“Public access to body camera footage is essential to achieving what the use of body cameras is meant to do, create public trust, improving relations between law enforcement and the communities they’re sworn to protect,” Zamarripa says.
The bill has support from law enforcement and groups that represent it across the state. One of the bill’s authors — Republican Representative Jesse Kremer — says the right to privacy for victims especially is crucial.
“There is no reason that a sexual assault victim … should relive the worst day of her life, possibly for an eternity,” Kremer says.
The bill would also require any law enforcement agency that uses body cameras to train staff on how to use them and have a policy regarding their use and maintenance. Additionally, it would require law enforcement agencies to keep body cam footage for 120 days.
If the footage isn’t requested in that time frame, agencies can destroy it.
Madison Representative Chris Taylor HAS authored multiple bills to increase transparency between the public and police. She says the state does need a statewide policy for body cameras, but this isn’t the way to do it.
“The public pays for body cams, and yet most of the footage under this bill they’re never going to see,” Taylor says.
The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote.
The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and the Wisconsin Newspapers Association are drafting amendments in an attempt to increase public access to body cam footage. They weren’t before the Assembly today, but the Senate could take them up when they take up the bill.