"I believe that progressive, 21st century police departments should have body-worn cameras," Chief Shon Barnes tells our political podcasters just a few weeks into his new job as Madison's top cop.
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Madison is one of the few cities of its size without cameras on patrol officers and one of only a third of police agencies in Wisconsin that haven't embraced the technology. Uniform cameras provide transparency and accountability following controversial police encounters, which helps builds public trust.
Yet Barnes stresses on today's episode of "Center Stage, with Milfred and Hands" that whether to equip his officers with the devices is the community's decision, not his.
"It's important to note that body-worn cameras have evolved tremendously from cameras that automatically turn on when your blue lights turn on, automatically turn on when your gun is unholstered, and there are cameras now that are attached to a fit bit," he says. "So you wear the fit bit so that the program knows what your resting and normal heart rate is, and if your heart rate is elevated, it turns your body-worn camera on."
Milfred and Hands praise Barnes for his emphasis on technology, including better use of data. Barnes also talks about waiters and waitresses making good police recruits, and his desire to expand recruitment efforts into churches and other places to help diversify the force.
The State Journal editorial board has been pushing the city to adopt body-worn cameras for years so rather than speculation, the public has hard, neutral evidence to judge controversial police encounters after they occur. Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, while working for the Obama administration, said uniform cameras should be a "no-brainer" for Madison. Milfred and Hands cite police recordings of the unnecessary and violent arrest of Milwaukee Bucks basketball player Sterling Brown as a prime example of how the cameras can hold police accountable. Video footage also can exonerate police who do no wrong, which is why the police union supports cameras.
Cameras can be expensive, Barnes cautions, and ideally footage would be released quickly to the public. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.
“Center Stage, with Milfred and Hands” is the State Journal’s weekly podcast from the sensible center of Wisconsin politics. It features Scott Milfred, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, and Phil Hands, the State Journal's political cartoonist.