The Madison City Council is getting another strong advocate for body cameras on police officers.
Donna Moreland, who easily won election April 2 to represent the Far Southwest Side, made public safety a central issue of her campaign. As part of that focus, she touted a proposal by Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney to test uniform cameras on a limited number of patrol officers to better understand their cost and benefits.
The mostly white City Council has repeatedly rejected the idea in recent years. But these two African American moms make a powerful case for giving the devices a try. Police body cameras in other cities have provided greater transparency and accountability following controversial incidents, including the shooting of unarmed black men.
“The cameras tell a story,” Moreland said, “and if used appropriately, they get us closer to the truth.”
She’s right, and she brings urgency to the issue.
“If my son is a black man, and he is shot because he has a cellphone in his hand,” Moreland said, “I will not get him back.”
Harrington-McKinney, who represents the Far West Side, has made similar appeals to her colleagues in proposing a camera pilot project costing little more than $100,000.
Cameras on police officers have been shown to improve the behavior of both officers and the civilians they encounter, as well as reduce the use of force. That wasn’t the case in one study of police cameras in Washington, D.C., but the devices still provided crucial video evidence to better judge disputed actions and behavior.
Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, who worked for the Obama administration to modernize policing, has called putting cameras on patrol officers here a “no-brainer.” The cameras often lead to fewer complaints against officers, and greater public understanding of police work.
Madison can draw on national models to develop policies for how and when the cameras are used. Some state lawmakers want to broadly restrict certain footage from public view. But Wisconsin’s open records law already provides a balancing test to weigh privacy concerns.
Some City Council members claim federal agents might somehow use video from police body cameras to deport undocumented immigrants. That’s a concern because of recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the Madison area. But no evidence suggests ICE has ever used body-cam footage for that purpose, despite countless police agencies adopting the technology.
What is real and significant is the benefit the cameras have provided to people falsely accused of crimes. Milwaukee Bucks basketball player Sterling Brown, for example, was wrongly arrested and zapped with a Taser because of a parking violation. A police body camera exonerated him and led to discipline for Milwaukee officers.
About half the Madison City Council is turning over. The new council should consider the strong case — made by moms such as Moreland — for cop cameras. They provide greater insight and public trust in law enforcement.