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Madison, Wis., Will Now Test Body Cameras for Police

With a winning vote of 11-9 by city aldermen, Madison, Wis., will soon launch a one-year police body camera pilot. Although the pilot has a number of critics, the police department supports the idea.

body cameras
(TNS) — After years of study and impassioned debate that pushed far into Wednesday morning, the City Council voted 11 to 9 to move toward a test of body-worn cameras for the Madison Police.

The vote, which came at 3:58 a.m., enables the city to begin preparations for a year-long body-worn camera pilot program in the Police Department's North District with final approval contingent on a detailed design for the program and action this fall on the 2023 budget.

"It creates a roadmap to implementation," said one of the sponsors, Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District.

The council, dealing with a packed agenda, also chose Alds. Keith Furman as its new president and Jael Currie as vice president, imposed a new charge for the city's recycling program, and approved a new permanent homeless men's shelter on the Far East Side, buying 27 electric buses and a road construction project on the West Side opposed by many residents.

Currently, only the city's SWAT team and motorcycle officers use body-worn cameras, and Madison police squad cars have long been equipped with dashboard-mounted cameras. Police Chief Shon Barnes and the city's police union have long supported their use.

After the vote, Barnes issued a statement saying he was "grateful" the council approved the pilot.

"We now begin the process of moving forward with this technology pilot. There is still much work to do and heavy loads to lift in order to rebuild trust with our community whom we proudly serve."

Barnes said that in his judgement, policing best practices include body-worn cameras.

Supporters call body cameras a tool to hold both police and civilians accountable and argue the pilot would help inform whether they're worth pursuing citywide. Opponents see body cameras as a pricey addition to a bloated police budget and fear the devices would be used against communities of color and other marginalized groups, including undocumented immigrants.

Barnes said the city does not turn over information or video to federal immigration authorities outside of life or death situations and that the technology can help police but also protect innocent citizens from wrongful convictions.

The resolution incorporates requirements of the city's surveillance technology ordinance and other conditions.

"We can't stand here and continue to patronize our African American community on something that is affecting them," said Ald. Charles Myadze, 18th District. "We have to stand up and do what's right. Let's get this done."

But several council members spoke powerfully in opposition, saying there are other ways to build police trust and that investments are better made in other areas to address inequities.

Ald. Grant Foster, 15th District, said he couldn't support the resolution without a council conversation about where to use the city's resources.

"We have to do it right. This is not it," Currie said.

While research is mixed on whether cameras help reduce the incidence of police use of force and complaints against police, their use has steadily increased. A state Department of Justice survey from 2020 found about 63% of the 434 Wisconsin law enforcement agencies that answered questions about body cameras use the devices to some extent.


Voting for the police body camera pilot program: Vidaver, Wehelie, Abbas, Albouras, Carter, Evers, Halverson, Harrington-McKinney, Lemmer, Myadze, Verveer.

Against: Benford, Bennett, Conklin, Curie, Figueroa-Cole, Foster, Furman, Heck, Martin.


In a contested race, the council voted 11 to 9 to elect Furman, 19th District, as the the new council president, defeating Ald. Nasra Wehelie, 7th District. Currie, 16th District, defeated Myadze by 12 to 8 vote to become vice president. They will serve one-year terms.

The new leadership succeeds outgoing president Syed Abbas, 12th District, and vice president Arvina Martin, 11th District. All council members are up for re-election in the spring of 2023.

The job of council president "is to help empower others," Furman said. He cited priorities of giving the council office the tools it needs to thrive; engaging residents; investing in training for council and committee members; and finding better methods to deal with conflict on the council.

"We need to find a way to stop the personal attacks," he said.

Given a number of high-profile items Tuesday, the council delayed a decision on a first-ever prohibited harassment and discrimination policy for the 20-member body, which doesn't have such rules like other city employees.


By a 12 to 8 vote, the council approved a new "resource recovery special charge" of about $50 a year per household that would apply to all curbside recycling customers, including most single-family homes and properties with eight or fewer residential units and some smaller commercial parcels.

The charge will not be imposed on properties that use private recycling services, including larger residential parcels, most commercial properties and all industrial properties.

The special charge is estimated at about $4.10 per month, or about $50 annually per household. The charge would generate about $1.5 million in its first half year for the city's $360.3 million operating budget. In its first full year, in 2023, it is estimated to generate $3 million. The charge is not based on volume so as not to punish those who recycle more of their waste, officials said.

The council voted unanimously to develop a permanent homeless men's shelter at a vacant, city-owned property at 1902 Bartillon Drive on the Far East Side and start the process of selecting design and engineering services and an operator for the facility. It will take about three years to complete the project.

The city is now using a temporary shelter at the city's former Fleet Services building at 200 N. First St. on the East Side, which will be soon be transformed into the $16.5 million Madison Public Market. The city will spend the coming months creating a temporary shelter at a city-owned, 31,500-square-foot building on 2.67 acres that formerly held Savers and Gander Mountain stores, at 2002 Zeier Road near East Towne Mall.

Also, the council overwhelmingly approved a resolution to use $41.6 million in federal funding to buy 27 electric buses for the coming first phase of the city's bus rapid transit system, pushing the city's goal of an all-electric BRT closer to reality.

The resolution authorizes a contract with New Flyer of Winnipeg, Manitoba, to purchase the initial 27 zero-emission buses and approving the next steps for the 15.5-mile first phase of the BRT project that will run roughly from East Towne Mall to West Towne Mall. A future route will run from north to south.

It calls for a base order of 27 60-foot all-electric articulated buses, which is more than half of the 46 vehicles needed to operate the upcoming BRT system. It also includes an option to add 19 more vehicles if more funding becomes available through the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act and Small Starts grant programs.

Despite strong opposition from many neighbors, the council voted 12 to 8 to approve a reconstruction of Lake Mendota Drive, including curb, gutter and sidewalks, from Baker Avenue to the city limits.

A series of residents voiced concerns about cultural and environmental impacts, the loss of parking, and sidewalk on both sides of the street, and were critical of Furman, who represents the area, for failing to listen and supporting the project. The residents sought to slow down the reconstruction and revise the plan. Approval will leave neighbors with bitterness, ill will and resentment, they said.

The city has offered extensive opportunity for engagement and made modifications based on public input that were still consistent with city plans and policies, city officials said.

The project will be done in phases in 2022, 2023 and 2024.

©2022 The Wisconsin State Journal Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.