Bob Donovan
Press Release

Body cameras = more politics than policing

Statement from Alderman Bob Donovan August 31, 2015

By - Aug 31st, 2015 11:12 am

The mayor is proposing to outfit each and every uniformed Milwaukee police patrol officer with a body camera, to the tune of more than $800,000 in the 2016 city budget.

Now I have no problem with body cameras for our officers, but I am very concerned that we’re jumping the gun here. There is no defined department policy on the use of the cameras, yet the mayor and Chief Flynn are putting forth what they’re calling the most aggressive police body camera initiative in the nation.

In my mind, this is a wrong-headed approach that may not accomplish what they hope it will. Rushing implementation of such an important new piece of department equipment and the policy to administer it just makes no sense.

I would proceed first with a sensible policy, and then try the body cameras out on a smaller certain number of patrol officers to see how they work. You might call it a “pilot project” approach.

Also, we’re talking about handing off at least part of this project to the MPD’s information technology division – the same people who lost untold hours of video interviews with suspects and witnesses in very serious cases. Not a good idea!

This almost reminds me of how quickly we jumped into the OpenSky digital radio communications system. The OpenSky system had a ton of problems after it was rolled out, including ones that frankly compromised officer safety in some situations, in my opinion.

I think we would do well to roll out the body cameras in a smart, deliberate fashion to see how they are working – instead of going hog wild and issuing them in a rush to all patrol officers.

The mayor also announced “100 new police officers” will be in his 2016 budget, and that he’ll eliminate the mandatory three furlough days for each officer (something he’s had in place, for some asinine reason, for the past few years).

I have been calling for adding hundreds of officers to make up for our officer vacancies for years, and the administration has said “no.” I believe we would not be seeing the record homicide rate and rampant crime situation in Milwaukee had the mayor had the gumption to do the right thing and add those hundreds of officers.

The 100 new officers are also not really 100, because the mayor is double counting the 35 officer recruits who will begin at the academy in December and graduate next year. So it’s really 65 “new officers,” and because of retirements, these new officers will basically keep the department at a flat staffing level. In effect, this means no net gain in getting the officers we need so badly on the street.

And eliminating the furlough days? Yes, thank you, Mr. Mayor, for doing the right thing, finally!

Those furlough days were stupid beyond words, as they ended up cutting thousands of hours of patrol time from city neighborhoods and giving the bad guys more room to maneuver.

Well done mayor, well done.

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11 thoughts on “Body cameras = more politics than policing”

  1. Ryan says:

    Oh look, Bathroom Bob wants to hear himself talk and try and stay relevant. Ignore everything you see here, the law and order candidate hires criminals for his own campaign, but they’re white criminals so that’s ok by him.

  2. Andy says:

    I have to disagree in that we don’t really have the need to start with a “pilot” program. There are issues with such a concept in and of itself, like what small group would receive the cameras and how would their efficacy on a local level be determined. That’s not why I think a “pilot program” is unnecessary, however. The “pilot program,” if you want to call it that, already exists in dozens of precincts across the country. The body-cameras have, in some places, been in use for a number of years now; we already know how effective they are. My position is that we should go all or nothing on such a proposal, and I’d lean toward all over nothing, given that MPD has been unable to avoid its fair share of controversies, adding itself to the list of police departments where someone winds up dead under questionable circumstances. How long until MPD is the source of the latest headline-grabbing* story of someone dying in custody or being gunned down while unarmed?

    * To be fair, headline-grabbing is a bit of a stretch. Sadly such stories have become so commonplace that the media barely makes a peep about it outside of the region where it happened.

  3. Lee says:

    He’s a total idiot. When will he finally shut up and go away?

  4. David Nelson says:

    I agree with Andy. The issue of police violence is wide spread and has long been been largely unaddressed. Perhaps Donovan is hoping that by doing a soft shoe on this, it will go away. Body cameras are one of the best ways we have to protect citizen rights. In some instances they provide police officers protection, such as in the event a citizen is misrepresenting an encounter with an officer. How about a little sunshine and less political grandstanding Bob?

  5. Just me says:

    I don’t mind the cameras. But I wish the Mayor & Chief would’ve taken the time to put together some sound policy as far as releasing the footage will go. Public records laws are unclear as to what would have to be released in a public records request. What about footage that shows the inside of a private home? Footage that shows a gruesome scene, such as a mangled or decomposed body? What about footage of victims, especially victims who are children or victims of sexual or other physical assaults,. What about police interactions with someone who is naked or suffering from a mental illness or other form of distress – where is the policy spelling out the right of citizens in such interactions to preserve their dignity? We assume that body cams will protect citizens and serve as proof of what really happened in a questionable incident….but what if the victims in question don’t want the footage released. Do they get a say? What about footage that shows the accused party….who is later found innocent or deemed to be wrongly accused? Where is their right to protect their reputation?

    My point is that there are too many unanswered questions about how this footage will be used and the extent to which it will be released to the public. Donovan’s wrong that this should be a pilot project but he’s right about it being a knee-jerk reaction to recent events.

  6. Tim says:

    Considering there are already dash cam videos from police cars, why would a new policy need to be added? Sounds like more excuses… “it’s oh so complicated” is just shorthand for keeping the status quo.

  7. Just me says:

    Tim it actually is more complicated than dash cams. Dash cams don’t get inches away from victims, gruesome scenes, etc. People who want/deserve their privacy can step out of view of a dash cam, but not a body cam.

    I also said I have no problem with body cams, I just want protection – either by policy or by amending the states open records laws – for victims and for people who are not guilty of anything, but who get caught up in body camera footage. Like I tried to point out, people are largely assuming that body cams will do nothing but film more Ferguson-esque situations. But they will film EVERYTHING. Do we want victims re-victimized by having their interaction filmed & put out there? Should the wrongly accused have their reputations forever tarnished because footage they were caught in is readily available?

  8. David Nelson says:

    There is nothing wrong with asking questions about how footage will be used, and sound policy should inform that process. This is a case where logic and a degree of sensitivity can prevail.

  9. Tim says:

    Dash cams can capture just the sensitive moments that you’re talking about “Just me”, you also haven’t convinced me that the current procedure with video is a problem. I’m just hearing a bunch of hypotheticals out of you which is exactly what people do when they’re afraid of change & ignorant of exactly what is going on. Please, prove me wrong.

  10. Rich says:

    Donovan should become familiar with Google. Took me less than 10 seconds to find out that they have run a pilot:

    Sure, there are additional questions to be answered, but as with most things in the law enforcement world, you need a use case — which first means a victim or a FOIA to determine the policy.

  11. Jeremy says:

    This is a huge expense. The cameras are a one-time cost, it’s the data storage that will haunt the City budget for decades to come. Aside from the cost for the actual storage, what about personnel hours to review and tag the footage? Let’s also hope that the same people involved with the loss of confessions earlier this year aren’t going to be in charge of archiving any videos. Finally, if we’re going to have the mill stone hung around our necks please, please, please make sure they can’t be turned off by the officers. Let a judge decide if footage can be redacted for victims etc. Record first, review later.

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