Last night, Madison’s Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC) voted against both a body worn camera pilot program and a full, city-wide rollout. In a 4-2 vote, PSRC members recommended that the city council reject the controversial technology.
That decision comes just a few weeks after a separate city committee finished a 52-page feasibility report on body cameras, which recommended a “vigorous” pilot program before city-wide implementation.
PSRC member Matthew Mitnick, who voted against the body cameras, cited concerns over the program’s anticipated costs and that it didn’t adequately address input from community members.
“As we’ve heard tonight, the vast majority are in opposition to the report and body cameras in general,” Mitnick said. “This does not address what we’ve been hearing for the past nine months.”
According to the feasibility report, first-year startup costs for a citywide program would be about $720,000 — that includes up-front costs for 289 cameras, as well as training and maintenance.
As part of Madison’s 2021 budget, city leaders already allocated about $83,000 for the body camera pilot program, tentatively slated for the city’s north side. But that funding is dependent on an additional vote of approval from the city council.
Proponents of body cameras argue that the technology increases police accountability, transparency and curbs excessive force.
But, opponents cite a laundry list of issues with the technology — including, but not limited to, their cost, their role in expanding police surveillance and their use in prosecuting civilians. In addition to those critiques, there’s evidence that body cameras don’t substantially reduce police use of force.
Luke Schieve was a member of the city’s Body Worn Camera Feasibility Review Committee, which assembled the report. Speaking at last night’s meeting, he said that the recommendations take into account those pros and cons.
“Without these recommendations, implementing these body-worn cameras could increase the risks of negative effects that we outline within the report,” Schieve said. “It hardly does justice to summarize it like this, but the bottom line is that body-worn cameras produce mixed results.”
Greg Gelembiuk is a former member of the Review Committee, but he resigned from that body before it finished drafting the final report. At last night’s meeting, he explained that his resignation came after his fellow committee members failed to adequately weigh the consequences of body cameras.
“The report fails to include any information about some of the most serious cons including dispositional biases or cognitive illiberalism where people see what they want to see in body cam video,” Gelembiuk said.
Another notable critic of the proposal was Madison’s new Chief of Police, Shon Barnes. Barnes said that it shouldn’t fall to the cameras to increase transparency and trust — that’s his responsibility.
Said Barnes: “If we’re measuring our success by whether body worn cameras change the behaviors of officers, I would say don’t get them. Being able to establish a culture of fairness, a culture of justice — that’s my responsibility. That’s not the responsibility of a body-worn camera or any other piece of technology.”
In 2015, in response to the shooting of Tony Robinson by Madison police officer Matt Kenny, the city council called for a task force to review and recommend overhauls to the Madison police department.
In 2019, that committee recommended 177 proposed changes to the MPD. One of those recommendations was to create another committee to research the feasibility of police body cams — the Body Camera Feasibility Review Committee.
The review committee’s report now goes to the city’s Equal Opportunities Commission for consideration at its meeting today.