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Council Committee Considers Ways to Better Monitor Police-Citizen Interactions

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The Milwaukee Police Department intends to purchase a number of body cameras for officers to wear.

Supporters say the devices would deter police from wrongdoing, while protecting officers from false claims that they mistreated citizens.

MPD Inspector Mary Hoerig told the Common Council’s Public Safety Committee Thursday that there’s a lot to consider.

“Each camera costs somewhere between $300-$1,000 depending on the vendor and the type of camera. To fully outfit our entire department, approximately 1,200 body cameras would be needed. That would run somewhere between $360,000 and $1.2 million,” Hoerig says.

Hoerig says because of the cost, it’s not yet clear whether the department would let only some officers wear the cameras, or, if police would share them. She says the MPD must make additional decisions, such as how police should use the devices.

“It takes time to get officers trained up on how to use the camera. We have to discuss privacy issues, when the cameras will be used. We’ll be wearing these cameras in people’s homes and when things are at their highest intensity levels, oftentimes…so we have to work through those types of policy conversations,” Hoerig says.

Alderwoman Milele Coggs says she hopes those conversations include the public and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s concerned about privacy issues. Yet Coggs says it’s clear, Milwaukee needs to better document interactions between police and citizens.

“My sincere hope is, given the amount of lawsuits that we currently are facing this year alone due to illegal searches and a whole bunch of other stuff, that it could also save the city some money on the back end, with lawsuits going down,” Coggs says.

The city has been hit with dozens of complaints from citizens who say they were victims of illegal strip and body cavity searches by police. Coggs is sponsor of a resolution that would outfit every officer with a body camera.

She sponsored another plan the committee approved on Thursday. It requires officers to record the race and ethnicity of those they pull over in traffic stops. The goal is to ensure police aren’t stopping one population group more than another.

Police Chief Edward Flynn has defended his department’s record on traffic stops. He says many occur in predominantly African American neighborhoods, because that’s where crime is highest.

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