State News

Police body camera footage would be limited under new bill

Public access to police body camera footage would be limited under a bill under consideration in the state Assembly.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Wisconsinites would have highly limited access to police body camera videos in a new proposal making its way through the state Legislature.

In the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, body camera videos would become confidential statewide. The public would only have access to them if the videos include deaths, injuries, arrests or searches.

Police showed their support for the bill during an Assembly Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee hearing Thursday, stating the bill balances concerns for privacy and the public’s desire for open records.

“There just had not been the guidelines that would protect victims of crime, as well as being transparent and balancing those requirements,” said Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney.

Police departments would not be required, however, to use body cameras, according to the bill.

Those in opposition to the bill expressed concerns that withholding the body cameras from public access would be against the videos’ purpose to hold law enforcement officers accountable.

“The primary reason police officers are given body cameras is to increase accountability and public confidence in their actions, and the bill is contrary to those goals,” said Bill Lueders, the president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

However, some say the videos are highly sensitive and need to be handled properly.

Pamela Oliver, a sociology professor at UW-Madison, stressed the sensitivity in public access of the videos, expressing concerns about exposing information regarding witnesses, domestic abuse victims and evidence of crimes to the public.

She emphasized the importance of public engagement in the creation of the bill to ensure their concerns are taken into account.

“In addition to the police, citizens should have the opportunity to engage and have input into the bill to represent citizens’ interests, as well as the police’s interests,” Oliver said.

The committee did not vote on the bill Thursday. 

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