Scare tactics shouldn’t stop cop cameras

October 18, 2018 GMT

The latest excuse for Madison failing to equip its police officers with body-worn cameras is that the video footage might somehow help federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents pursue undocumented immigrants.


It’s an odd theory floated at a recent city meeting by Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff. The Near West Side council member noted that police videos are presumed to be public records, which would allow ICE to access them.

But why would ICE, which arrested 83 “criminal aliens and immigration violators” across Wisconsin late last month, want such police videos in the first place? Bidar-Sielaff didn’t explain. And, thankfully, she didn’t win over the city’s Finance Committee with her vague concern.

The committee wisely voted 4-2 on Sept. 24 to include $104,000 for 47 body cameras and related equipment in the city budget to test the devices on the city’s North Side. The same committee next week should approve money to operate the cameras. Ald. Paul Skidmore, who represents the Far West Side and has been a leading advocate for testing uniform cameras on police, said Tuesday the operational cost would be about $100,000 or less.

That’s not much expense for the improved transparency, accountability and public trust that body-worn cameras provide. Dozens of other police agencies across the region and state have reported positive results. And the cost for Madison’s limited use of the cameras would be tiny, compared to the city’s larger budget.

When Milwaukee police arrested and zapped professional basketball player Sterling Brown with a Taser for a parking violation earlier this year, a body-worn camera on a Milwaukee police officer captured video showing Brown was mistreated. The police department subsequently dropped its tentative charges against Brown and disciplined officers instead. It’s one of several high-profile cases in Wisconsin in which police were held accountable for misconduct.

Yet the state police union and, according to Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, most Madison officers welcome the cameras because, “I think they look at it as a mechanism to combat some of the false narratives about how they are doing their work,” Koval told the Finance Committee.

Madison has fallen behind peer and even tiny police agencies in resisting this helpful technology. As a result, when controversial police encounters occur here, the evidence of what happened is often limited to conflicting stories, rather than hard evidence showing the objective truth.

Madison should finally embrace body-worn cop cameras in the coming year. Scare tactics about ICE shouldn’t stop progress in local policing.