UW-Madison police body camera

UW-Madison police officer Juan Avila wears a body camera outside the department's office earlier this year.

Police at UW-Madison are working toward becoming the latest Wisconsin law enforcement agency to equip officers with body-mounted cameras, and will hold public forums to solicit feedback on how the department should use the technology.

UW-Madison police officials have been researching the cameras for about two years, spokesman Marc Lovicott said, and several officers have been sharing a camera for more than a year on a trial basis.

The department recently used grant funding to buy 10 more cameras, and officials are hoping to have officers use them regularly by the end of the year.

“We see a lot of value in it, both from an investigative standpoint and an officer conduct standpoint,” Lovicott said.

Many of those calling for police reforms — including the family of Tony Robinson, who was fatally shot by a Madison police officer last month — have endorsed body-mounted cameras, saying they provide a clearer record of controversial incidents such as officer-involved shootings, and can build trust in law enforcement.

Others have questioned the technology’s cost and limitations, saying their use alone will not be enough to improve community relations with police.

Several area police departments use body-mounted cameras, including those in Whitewater and Janesville.

Some Madison police officers will start using the cameras next year as part of a pilot program in one of the department’s five districts.

UW-Madison police purchased the cameras, at a cost of about $500 each, through a grant, Lovicott said. The cameras are manufactured by L3 Communications and can be clipped onto an officer’s uniform.

With 80 sworn officers, the department will need to buy more of the cameras eventually, Lovicott said.

For now, though, officials are focused on writing policies for how they will be used — taking cues from other departments that have used them and hearing input from members of the public at forums scheduled for next month.

Those forums will take place at 6 p.m. on May 6 and at 2 p.m. on May 7 at Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St.

Lovicott said the forums will address how the public wants to see police use the cameras, including questions such as what kinds of police contacts will or won’t be recorded.

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