Police body cam study committee holds first meeting

The Legislative Council Study Committee on the Use of Police Body Cameras held its first meeting Thursday at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.

The committee, which includes Sens. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and John Spiros (R-Marshfield), is tasked with reviewing law enforcement policies regarding the use of body cameras and recommending legislation to establish uniform procedures regarding the retention and release of body camera video for state and local law enforcement agencies.

(Left to right) Legislative Council Staff Attorney Steve McCarthy, Chris Taylor, D-Madison, Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, Dan Schmidt, Principal Analyst & Operations Manager for Legislative Council, and James Friedman, media attorney and WNA Foundation Board member, hear testimony during the first meeting of the Legislative Council Study Committee on the Use of Police Body Cameras.

Two key concerns among committee members during Thursday’s meeting focused on video retention issues and policies regarding police officers’ ability to turn the cameras on and off. Rep. Taylor was among those who wanted to make it clear to the public that it is not up to individual officers to decide when the cameras are recording.

Video redaction was another primary concern, relating to both privacy and open records. Twenty-three states, along with Washington D.C., have enacted legislation addressing body cameras in open records laws. Among them is a law in Minnesota that says those not wishing to be depicted in body camera footage would be redacted prior to release.

James Friedman, media attorney and WNA Foundation Board member, said he was pleased to hear from Axon and the DOJ that redaction technology is available, but he believed existing redaction law was sufficient from a public access perspective. Others expressed concern about the law doing more harm than good, potentially leading to an overly policed state.

Thursday’s meeting featured presentations from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the Milwaukee Police Department, the law firm of Von Briesen & Roper, which uses body cam data, and Axon, a technology company that produces Tasers and body cameras.

The committee will meet again in the fall, with possible meeting dates of Sept. 11 or 13 and Oct. 17.