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Entire UW-Madison Police Fleet Equipped with Body Cameras

The department hopes the public will see the tech as a way to help police investigations and enhance customer service to citizens.

body camera
Stan Carroll/The Commercial Appeal/TNS
(TNS) — UW-Madison police on Monday publicly joined a growing number of law enforcement agencies nationwide that use body cameras to provide a clearer record of their daily interactions with those they serve, for good or bad.

“We hope the public will see this as not only a way for us to get help with investigations but as a way for us to enhance customer service,” UWPD spokesman Marc Lovicott said. “It’s a two-way street.”

“It is not in reaction to what we’ve seen with the police climate in the last year or so,” Lovicott added, in reference to heightened tension over police shootings and other conflicts. “We see this as one tool of many that we have, and as an extension of technology that we already have with our (in-car) dashboard-camera footage.”

UW-Madison police have 11 body-worn cameras, enough for most members on each of three daily shifts to wear one, Lovicott said. Officers began wearing the cameras on every shift starting around Oct. 15, he said, after about a year of a few officers testing just one or two cameras.

“We wanted to work out the kinks and make sure everyone was comfortable with them and understood our policies before we went public,” Lovicott said.

UW-Madison senior Ethan Dowling, 21, of Dodgeville, liked that officers are now wearing cameras. “It holds them to a new level of responsibility for their own actions,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing.”

Bryan Dolan, a 21-year-old senior from Barrington, Illinois, said: “I just hope (the cameras) will be used for the right thing. They will need to be closely monitored, and if (their use) becomes a bigger issue than why they were put in in the first place, UWPD will need to self-reflect on that.”

Manufactured by L3 Communications and purchased with a state grant for about $500 each, the cameras clip onto the front of an officer’s shirt to record interactions.

UW-Madison police’s embrace of body cameras stands in contrast to the warier approach seen in the city of Madison, where an advisory committee recommended against adopting police body cameras in September.

Members cited testimony from focus groups including minorities and victims of domestic violence who expressed concerns over privacy and misuse of cameras.

UW-Madison police tried to address concerns by soliciting feedback from the university community through social media, email and two public forums in May. Those comments in turn helped officials write rules governing the use of the cameras in a policy that’s available on a link off the department’s website at

“There were a lot of people who didn’t want (officers) to ever turn the cameras off,” Lovicott said. “They wanted them constantly running through the entire shift.”

Lovicott said officials explained that battery storage problems and other practicalities ruled out continuous use of the cameras. But the adopted policy does direct officers to record “all contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties,” including interviews with victims and witnesses, and interactions with possible suspects.

Officers can choose to turn off a camera at the request of a victim or witness, Lovicott said, but they must verbally record their intent to do so before stopping the device and again verbally note when the camera is turned back on.

Officers also must inform people they’re being recorded “whenever it’s reasonable,” Lovicott said. That means for sure before interviews begin, Lovicott said, but probably not when officers have to chase someone or an interaction turns physical.

In settings where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as homes or medical centers, decisions will be made on a “case-by-case” basis, Lovicott said, depending on whether the interaction is made “pursuant to official law enforcement duties,” according to the policy.

©2015 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.