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Support expanded body cam use

The Wisconsin State Legislature needs to take action on SB50, a bill that will set standards when it comes to record retention and access for law enforcement body cameras.

Body cameras record the interaction of law enforcement officers with victims, suspects and others. They have become increasingly popular as a way to have a record of events in instances where allegations of misconduct are made and as an evidence collection tool for police investigations.

While no Taylor County law enforcement agencies currently use the body cameras, this may change in the future as costs for the technology come down.

Cost is the major barrier for smaller departments to adopt the use of the cameras. National averages place the initial cost of the units at about $1,000 per officer, however, as with most technology-based items the cost has dropped significantly and can vary widely by brand and quality.

The major hurdle for departments is the ongoing cost of securely storing the data files. The state estimates the average cost of this file storage at $100 per officer per month. Currently the data is stored primarily on local servers, however, as secure off-site cloudbased storage comes down in price this cost is also likely to come down as demand spurs greater competition.

Under the provisions of SB50, departments would generally have to retain the recording for only 120 days, unless they were needed for evidence in ongoing investigations or cases. Given the overburdened court system and sometimes lengthy delays between an incident and when it comes to trial, it is more realistic to expect that keeping files beyond the minimum time will be the norm.

The other key part of SB50 is that it codifies public access to the recordings and establishes a balancing test that respects Wisconsin’s presumption of the public’s right to access records, while giving statutory protections to minors, victims and those with the expectation of privacy. The bill also directs custodians to use redaction where necessary to allow for a video to be released.

SB50 was drafted by a bipartisan study committee that included elected officials, law enforcement, open records experts and members of the media. By laying out clear, common sense rules for the storage and release of the recordings, SB50 would allow municipalities to avoid costly legal challenges that would put the rule making process in the hands of judges and lawyers rather than legislators.

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association has advocated for the expansion of use of the body camera systems as a way to improve accountability of both law enforcement offi cers and the members of the public with whom they interact.

Having statewide common sense standards in place will make it easier for local communities to make the jump to having body cameras without having to worry about creating new policies and procedures.