A state task force looking into ways to address racial disparities in policing recommended body cameras for all law enforcement officers in Wisconsin April 21.
The subcommittee also recommended creating a funding mechanism to assist agencies with body camera costs and collaboration among law enforcement agencies to reduce these costs. They recognized “24/7 activation” may be too costly and could raise privacy concerns for both officers and public citizens.
Madison City Council’s Body-Worn Camera Feasibility Review Committee similarly recommended Jan. 26 that Madison police use body cameras in a pilot trial. Their recommendation came with several stipulations — Committee Member Luke Schieve said in a written statement to The Badger Herald body-worn cameras are a critical issue with important nuances.
“Police must be properly trained and have the appropriate processes in place to ensure that BWCs are not used in a way that is more detrimental to our community,” Schieve said. “BWCs are just a tool, and can be misused just like any other tool.”
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Schieve said he thinks overcriminalization is the biggest risk BWCs could bring if implemented. While they would provide an objective account of police interactions with the public, it could lead to more charges against the public, Shieve said.
Schieve said the focus should be on preventing crime rather than getting better at punishing those who commit it.
“I think the main reason for BWCs is to give the public visibility where they previously had little to none,” Schieve said. “Both from the research we’ve reviewed and plenty of isolated examples where BWC footage has helped to shed light on cases to ensure individuals involved are held accountable.”
One of the committee’s stipulations included providing a disclosure any time footage is released in order to prevent perceptual bias. For example, when a person views an incident from the officer’s point of view, other individuals in the footage may appear larger or more threatening, Schieve said.
Schieve said though the footage would objectively show who pulled a gun first, BWC footage has the potential to make people think the officer was justified in their actions, especially in cases that are not clear-cut.
“Something that we should all recognize is that just because we all view the same video doesn’t mean we all have the same takeaways,” Schieve said. “Our findings have indicated that the best way to combat perceptual bias like this is to make those who view the footage aware of it.”
Former member of the Madison committee Greg Gelembiuk, a biologist and the only scientist who served on the committee, wrote a letter to alders and committee members detailing flaws in the recommendation. Gelembiuk resigned from the committee before they drafted the final report, saying fellow committee members failed to adequately weigh the consequences of BWCs, WORT reported.
Gelembiuk said in the letter the report fails to discuss how BWC footage can exacerbate problems caused by dispositional biases. These are biases motivated by culture, beliefs, values and group commitments, conscious or unconscious, of the viewer, according to Gelembiuk’s letter.
“If body cams are implemented, the conjunction of dispositional biases in perception of video and situational biases in perception specific to bodycam video may well make it more difficult to impose accountability on officers,” Gelembiuk said.
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Gelembiuk also said in the letter the committee failed to consider alternatives. Modifying the policy on microphones, which MPD officers on patrol already wear, to record under more circumstances was an alternative that Gelembiuk included in the letter.
WKOW reported Alder Charles Myadze said the Common Council will take up the April 21 recommendations at the May 18 meeting.