(TNS) -- Another important advocacy group supports putting body cameras on police officers who patrol Wisconsin communities.
End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, a coalition of 73 member organizations across the state, held focus groups “from Milwaukee to Marinette” to gauge the opinions of domestic abuse survivors and their advocates, associate director Tony Gibart told the State Journal editorial board.
“In general, what they relayed to us was that they want privacy protections for themselves and for victims who might be (filmed by) body cameras,” Gibart said. “But they also supported use of body cameras as an accountability mechanism for law enforcement and as documentation of the abuse they were experiencing.”
That makes sense, given the clear evidence video images can provide from crime scenes. It also adds another voice to the diverse chorus calling for wider use of cop cameras in local communities — including Madison, which has resisted this relatively simple technology.
Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray calls body cameras on police officers “a no-brainer” because they help “get at the truth” of controversial encounters between police and the public. Wray worked for the Obama administration promoting modern law enforcement practices, including cameras on officers. A 12-month study found uniform cameras reduce complaints against officers as well as the use of force.
Madison is falling behind the rest of the country and opening itself up to legal liability by failing to even test these increasingly small and rugged cameras that can be mounted to police officers’ shirts, jackets, shoulders, hats and even glasses.
Wisconsin’s open records law allows for a balancing test between the public’s right to see video evidence in prominent cases versus the privacy of individuals involved. The same balancing test has worked well and long applied to other police records on paper and audio recordings. In addition, the federal government encourages local police agencies to adopt clear rules on how and when to use their cameras.
“Officers should be required to obtain consent prior to recording interviews with crime victims,” the federal Community Oriented Policing Services office recommends on its website. “This addresses the significant privacy concerns associated with videotaping crime victims.”
Gibart said his statewide organization that advocates for domestic abuse victims hasn’t endorsed specific criteria for how officers should use cameras. But many victims clearly see the value of having footage from the devices available to police and prosecutors, he added.
Wisconsin’s police union supports body cameras on patrol officers. Black Lives Matter activists want to make body and dashboard cameras mandatory. A St. Norbert College scientific poll of state residents found 82 percent of respondents favor cameras on cops.
Madison should embrace cameras, too, for the clarity they will bring to policing.
©2017 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.