Yesterday, a bill that would regulate police body cameras passed the State Senate without objection.
Police body cameras are currently unregulated, as is the footage they record.
This bill wouldn’t require police officers to wear body cameras. There isn’t comprehensive data on how many of Wisconsin’s approximately 500 law enforcement agencies use body cameras. But last year, body camera manufacturer Axon told the Associated Press that only about 60 agencies use the cameras.
Still, agencies who do use body cameras would be required to make a written policy on their use. And, they’d have to train their officers accordingly.
Nate Dreckman, the vice president of the Badger State Sheriff’s Association, supports the bill. He says he hasn’t heard of any opposition to the changes.
“Having a policy is appropriate for agencies,” says Dreckman. “There are some agencies that choose not to use body cameras for whatever reason, whether it’s cost or storage or whatever, but we felt it was appropriate that, if they do in fact have body cameras, let’s at least have some policies on how they’re used, how they’re implemented, and how the officers and deputies are trained on it.”
The proposal would also require that body camera data is saved for 120 days. For some investigations, the camera data would have to be saved until the case is over. And most footage would be available under Wisconsin’s open records law.
That means any citizen, and the media, could request the footage when it exists. And law enforcement would have to hand it over, except in some special cases.
Kyle Geissler is a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Broadcaster’s Association who lobbied in favor of the bill. Geissler says the bill successfully balances individual privacy with access to information.
“The current law that uses the balancing tests; a record custodian will have to look at all the things that they’ve always looked at before when deciding to release a record to the public and the burden is on them to prove that it should not be made available to the public,” says Geissler.
“The record custodian can now take into account whether there are minors in the video, whether there is a victim of violent crime in the video, or whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy of anyone that appears in the video. So really what this does is give them largely the same treatment as all other public records while addressing the concern about privacy.”
The bill is being considered in the state assembly on what is expected to be their final work day of 2020. If it passes, it will head to Governor Evers’ desk for his approval.
A survey from last year conducted by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association found that ninety five percent of Wisconsin residents want police to wear body cameras.
Photo Credit: Diego Parra | Pixabay