Committee comes closer to recommendation on police body cameras

James Friedman and Ben Hart

A legislative committee studying the use of police body cameras held its second meeting on Thursday and made progress in recommending legislation on the issue.

The committee is trying to establish uniform regulations for law enforcement using body cameras. Legislation on body cameras passed in the Assembly but was not brought up for a vote in the Senate before the end of the last session.

WISN-TV News Director Ben Hart and attorney James Friedman are representing broadcasters and the media on the committee.

At its first meeting the committee heard reports from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Wisconsin Department of Justice, attorneys representing local and county government, and a body camera vendor. At Thursday’s meting the committee heard from the Milwaukee Police Department about its body cameras before spending much of the session deliberating on a legislative recommendation.

The bill that failed in the last session would have made footage from police body cameras confidential to the public unless it contained injuries, deaths, arrests, or searches. Victims and witnesses would also need to give law enforcement permission to release footage if the videos violated their privacy.

Open records advocates argued for maintaining Wisconsin’s current standard of a public records being assumed accessible to the public, rather than shifting that to assuming the videos are not public.  The committee raised concerns about the challenge video recordings present to victims and children, and there was some discussion of adjusting existing laws to take those concerns into consideration.

The committee also discussed how much detail the law should include and how much flexibility should be given to law enforcement agencies on issues like retention of video footage and policies for how the cameras are used.

The committee is tentatively scheduled to meet again on Oct. 17 to further refine and potentially finalize its recommendation.