Madison Needs Cop Cams

Yesterday’s shooting of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb is only the latest, but maybe the most impactful, evidence of the value of body worn police cameras.

The video from officer Kim Potter’s camera makes it clear that, in a moment of high stress, she pulled her gun when she intended to use her taser. We should all wait for a complete investigation, but that body cam footage will likely be the most important piece of evidence in any inquiry.

And while that video evidence might provide some cover for the police officer, the opposite is true of the killing of George Floyd. We would not be here today, in the middle of the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, if it were not for the extensive video coverage taken by bystanders. But Chauvin was not wearing a camera. So, what would have happened if he had done the very same thing but at, say 3 AM, when there was no one else present?

So, why won’t Madison take the plunge into cameras? Short answer: I have no idea. The evidence is strongly in favor of them and the valid concerns can be addressed.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway needs to lead on police body cameras.

Three special city committees have studied this issue since 2014 and standing committees have weighed in as well. The Police Department supports them as does current Council President Sheri Carter, but some community activists have concerns.

As far as I can tell, these concerns fall into a couple of categories. One argument is that in certain sensitive situations, like domestic violence, the presence of the camera will make victims reluctant to talk. That’s a reasonable concern with a reasonable solution. Simply allow officers to turn off their cameras at the request of victims under certain circumstances.

The other worry is that this will somehow be seen as a solution to all policing issues, short-circuiting other reforms. That argument just doesn’t hold up. Nobody, not even camera advocates, views it this way. Policing is under more scrutiny than ever and the idea that body cameras will be perceived by anyone as the last word in police reform and oversight is just not plausible.

And, of course, cameras can have a positive effect whether or not the video ever comes into play. The very fact that officers know that their every action is being recorded are more likely to be cautious in their actions and to be respectful to citizens they encounter.

Over half of police departments in America have cameras and there are more every month. About two-thirds of departments our size use them. It just makes sense. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is not taking a position on this, but this is precisely the kind of thing that a mayor needs to show some leadership on.

In the wake of the Duante Wright tragedy, the Mayor needs to take a stand for cameras.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

5 thoughts on “Madison Needs Cop Cams

  1. No, the argument against, outside of privacy, is that they do not work as intended or envisioned years ago. The evidence from large-scale studies shows that bodycams don’t reduce the use of force, don’t add to accountability, and in fact, provide more mechanisms for police and prosecutors to add on charges- usually Black and Brown suspects, deepening arrest and charge disparities. If you actually read the criticism and the research backing it up, instead of making your own assumptions and projections on what it is, you’d know this. Do you spend time reading anything that doesn’t confirm your priors?

    They are not all bad with some positives, but the cost-benefit isn’t there. They cost a good amount to implement, train, and maintain. Primarily they become another tool of policing, another expensive tool, while not providing more transparency, impact on police behavior, or accountability. It is a cost-prohibitive technocratic solution to a policy and institutional problem, not a problem of evidence. It reinforces the false idea, contrary to all the evidence, one you seem beholden to, that the problem with police and policing is at an individual, not a systems level. This opinion of yours is just you continuing believing you know better than the people who have actually put in years of work in understanding these issues.


    1. I made it clear in my piece that cameras were not going to solve every problem. They provide more information. Under what scenario is less information preferable?


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