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Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Police Officer wearing a body camera

Madison Police Department and residents discuss controversial body-worn camera pilot program

The meeting raised issues surrounding conflicts of interest and the potential consequences of the program.

The Madison Police Department hosted a public event to discuss the controversial body-worn camera pilot program Thursday. 

“Share the Table” was held in Memorial Union where attendants engaged in hands-on activities, discussed the implications of body-worn cameras and looked at research regarding the practice. 

The one-year pilot program calls for 48 body-worn cameras for officers in Madison’s North District. City leaders have yet to approve the program which has an $83,000 budget, set by the Madison City Council. 

Police Chief Shon Barnes told NBC15 on Tuesday that body-worn cameras are a positive tool for transparency in officer interactions with the public, citing the recent officer shooting of Quadren Wilson.

“I think that body-worn cameras are a necessary tool for today’s law enforcement officers,” Barnes said. “If you will recall earlier last week there was an officer-involved shooting in our city and to my knowledge, no one had body-worn cameras, and as a result, there have been questions about what actually happened.”

Barnes had a positive reaction after the meeting, saying there was a diverse group of people that will foster good discussions moving forward. 

“They’re asking questions about the policy, asking questions about technology,” Barnes said. “They want to know how the community’s going to be impacted or protected.”

Representatives from Axon, a global body-worn camera manufacturer, allegedly paid for the event. Axon’s presence at the meeting raised ethical concerns, as the company would gain from entering into a contract with the city. 

“The public isn’t aware there is a very serious conflict of interest,” Ald. Keith Furman, 19th District, said in an email to Barnes. “I have no issue with a vendor demonstrating their technology at a discussion, but the fact the department thought it was OK to have that vendor pay for space and help collect data with no disclosure to the public is incredibly disturbing.” 

Although Axon reserved the space in Memorial Union, Barnes says he doesn’t know if any payment was required to do so. 

“To say they’re paying for a community meeting is a little misleading,” Barnes told the CapTimes. “Axon arranged to have the facility, but I don’t know what they paid or didn’t pay.” 

Cost of the rollout, the effectiveness at reducing police brutality, officers tampering with the camera and the possibility of the technology could result in more public criminal charges are among additional concerns from the public.  

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“My conclusion is the cost and harm outweigh the benefits,” said Greg Gelembiuk, a member of Madison’s body-worn camera feasibility review committee.

Officers at the meeting explained that the camera would be turned on when the officer is assigned to a call and the footage would be saved immediately to a database to avoid potential tampering by the officer. Legal representatives would have access to the video with a login. 

The University of Wisconsin Police Department already has a body-worn camera policy in place. 

The pilot program will be voted on by the City Council during their April 19 meeting. 

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