American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin
Press Release

“We’re not there yet.”

ACLU of Wisconsin Statement on Milwaukee Police Department Body Worn Camera October 16, 2015 proposal

By - Oct 15th, 2015 04:01 pm

Milwaukee: Tonight, the Milwaukee Board of Fire and Police Commissioners will consider preliminary approval of a revised proposal establishing a standard operating procedure for Body Worn Cameras (BWCs).

The initial proposal developed by the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) over the summer was a good start that considered reports and policies from professional groups and other law enforcement agencies. Guidelines and a model policy from the American Civil Liberties Union on body-mounted cameras were among the materials MPD reviewed. The Fire and Police Commission (FPC) and its new executive director have responded to the proposal. The ACLU of Wisconsin and community members have raised issues, including, but not limited to, the following:

Officers are required to turn on their BWCs in some circumstances, they are prohibited from turning them on in other sensitive circumstances, and have the discretion to turn off the BWCs (such as when requested by a subject to do so). How is the discretion that officers must have going to be guided by policy, training, and supervision?

How will civilians know that they are being recorded and that they may request that the BWC be turned off? Currently, officers are encouraged but not required to announce that they have their BWC recording.   The FPC should consider mandating that officers announce that they have their BWC recording as soon as practicable.

What consequences are there if an officer abuses his discretion or violates departmental BWC procedures?  If supervisors suspect or residents complain that there has been an abuse, the facts will need to be determined in a way that is fair to all parties.

  • If it is determined that a violation has occurred, then there must be direct disciplinary action against the individual(s) responsible anywhere along the chain of custody.
  • There should be a rebuttable evidentiary presumption in favor of criminal defendants who claim exculpatory evidence was not captured or was destroyed.
  • There should be a rebuttable evidentiary presumption on behalf of civil plaintiffs suing the government, police department and/or officers for damages based on police misconduct.

How will supervisors, MPD, the FPC, and the public know if officers are complying with MPD’s policy and training on BWCs? How will the MPD or the FPC report the results of inspections to the Common Council and the public?   Also, individuals who are subjects of recordings should have expedited access to recordings.

The Milwaukee Police Department collects huge amounts of data using a variety of surveillance technologies, e.g. traffic stop data, ALPRs, CCTV, Shotspotter, potentially unmanned aerial vehicles, and now BWC data. The MPD employs approximately 24 data analysts in its Data Fusion Center. The FPC should consider prohibiting the analysis of the BWC data by means of comparing it to other datasets held by MPD or any other local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. It is telling that while the BWC system is being promoted as a means of increasing police accountability, the cloud storage system selected by MPD is named Evidence.com and not Accountability.com.

The ACLU of Wisconsin believes that Body Worn Cameras, if used properly, have a role in enhancing police accountability and community trust. However, if they are perceived to be misused, then community trust may be harmed.   The ACLU of Wisconsin commends the MPD and the FPC for the hard work they have already put in on this new tool. However, we urge the FPC to consider the issues we have raised above and others, sooner rather than later.

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