City News

City officials nix funding body-worn cameras for Madison police

City council members shot down a similar proposal funding body-worn cameras for Madison police in 2015.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Body-worn cameras won’t be part of Madison police uniforms anytime soon.

The Common Council removed $123,000 from the city capital budget early Tuesday morning, which would have purchased 47 body-worn cameras, storage equipment, training and overtime for some officers.

The project, sponsored by Ald. Paul Skidmore of District 9, would have acted as a pilot program for MPD. If it proved viable for officers on the North Side, citywide implementation would be the next step, although how much that would cost is still unclear.

Skidmore said the body cameras would have provided “transparency, accountability and visibility” for officers and citizens.

“We would also be able to divert a lot of ‘he said, she said’ settlements,” he said. “It’s not a good use of city resources.”

But some city officials worry that cameras would cost too much in the long run. Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, said a pilot program might lead to implementing a program throughout the entire department — a move that could bear a high price tag for the city.

“There seems to be an assumption that by funding a pilot program, we are committing to full implementation,” Skidmore said. “This is our opportunity to test a policy and look at it at the end of the year and decide if full implementation would be worth it.”

Other alders, including Bidar, are skeptical about making a “premature” decision on body-worn cameras for police officers.

Ald. Denise DeMarb, District 16, said they city should wait until results of a long-term study of the Madison Police Department are released.

“We don’t know what it’s going to tell us,” Demarb said. “If it’s on the list and it’s a priority, we can come back to this.”

In previous discussions about implementing the cameras, the community has voiced concerns over videos being made available through public records requests — though they would likely be subject to the same agency discretion rules that protect sensitive information.

While body-worn cameras are widely used by law enforcement around the country, the idea has previously been a hard sell in Madison. A similar program was proposed in 2015, but was shot down by city council in a 19-1 vote.

Skidmore said he will continue pushing for the body-worn cameras.

“I’m going to keep trying,” he said. 

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