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Residents Voice Concerns Over Plan to Outfit Milwaukee Police With Body Cameras

Marti Mikkelson
Alan Schultz speaks at a public hearing Tuesday night.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wants to equip police officers with body cameras by the end of next year. 

Police say the devices provide the most accurate account of interactions between officers and suspects.

It's expected to cost nearly $1 million to purchase 1,200 cameras.

Nearly 100 people turned out at the Hillside Family Resource Tuesday night for a public hearing. Speakers voiced a myriad of concerns.

The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission hosted the hearing. It began with a presentation from Milwaukee Police Sgt. Doug Wiorek. He says the tiny cameras would likely be mounted to an officer’s collar.

“This is the preferred method to wear the cameras up on the head is because it allows for a view of what’s going on in front of you. If I’m talking to a man sitting in front of me and something moves to my left or right, with the camera mounted to my head I will be able to pick up that distraction, versus a body camera mounted to my chest, it’s not going to move with my head,” Wiorek says.

Wiorek says officers would be able to turn off the cameras during sensitive investigations.

“If I’m interviewing a sexual assault victim and the victim indicates they want me to shut the camera off, I’m going to honor that. It’s more important to me to get the statement rather than having to worry about the victim having to worry about future consequences from being on video. Same with child victim interviews of a sensitive nature, in the protection of the victim it may be deactivated,” Wiorek says.

Wiorek says police could also shut off cameras in restrooms or during casual conversations with members of the public. One of the first speakers was Mike Wilder. He doesn’t think the cameras should ever be shut off.

“There are lot of exemptions in turning these cameras off and there are not a lot of consequences. As the public, we would like to know what the consequences would be if officers turn these cameras off for no good reason. As the public who pays these officers’ salaries, so therefore, we need these cameras to be on all the time,” Wilder says.

Another person with lots of questions was Alan Schultz. He fears officers will make the wrong decisions when contemplating whether to turn off the cameras.

“If officers control when or where the body cameras are filming, then how will the public trust them to maintain their own accountability? If these officers are considered public servants, why is it their discretion to later upload the video, turn on and off the cameras and/or opt to wear fallible body cameras on their head?” Schultz asks.

Another concerned citizen is Mary Watkins. She's afraid it’ll be difficult for people to obtain records.

“I’ve heard in other states that there have been exorbitant charges for images and videos to be obtained by people and that’s prevented them from getting the information they needed. I’ve also heard that information can be redacted and can be quarantined. I’d like someone to spell out how that works and how we can address that issue,” Watkins says.

Several people in the audience called the debate a waste of time.  The Fire and Police Commission is expected to take up the proposal Thursday.

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