Study Committee on Body Cameras Meets

The Study Committee on the Use of Police Body Cameras met for the first time on July 26, 2018. The committee, chaired by Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), is tasked with “review[ing] law enforcement policies regarding the use of body cameras and recommend[ing] legislation to establish uniform procedures regarding the retention and release of body camera video for state and local law enforcement agencies.”

The meeting began with an introduction of committee members. The committee includes members from law enforcement, news media, and attorneys.

The first presentation was from Amanda Essex from the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL). Essex provided an overview of state laws pertaining to body camera policies and data management practices. This included legislation spanning from requiring body camera use, requiring written policies, funding for body cameras, and open record implications. She also discussed trends in data storage and retention best practices. Considerations for retention policies include how long should records be maintained and how open records requests are handled. Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Taylor asked Essex whether there are any states that provide storage options for law enforcement, but she was not aware of such a state program.

Following the presentation from NCSL, the committee heard from two representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The focus of their presentation was the interaction of the public records law and retention issues. The DOJ presenters explained that the starting presumption is that the public has access to the record. They provided the committee with an overview of the statutory definition of a record, the roles of authorities and custodians relating to the record, and the process to request a record.

The presenters discussed the “balancing test” that that weighs the public interest in disclosing the record against the public interest and public policies against disclosure. They pointed out that for a law enforcement agency’s records, the balancing test “must be applied on a case-by-case basis.” Members then heard about considerations relating to the release of a body camera video, including the public’s right to know, safety and security of witnesses, if children or juveniles are in the video, and privacy issues around the location of the video (e.g. in one’s home). Wrapping up their presentation, the presenters provided information and demonstrations on redaction of videos and retention timeframes.

Following a lunch break, the committee members heard about the use and type of body cameras in Milwaukee. Presenters from the Milwaukee Police Department also described the body camera data flow and funding considerations. Next, the committee heard from attorneys from Von Briesen and Roper. The two attorneys, Andy Phillips and Hector de la Mora walked through the arguments for and against body cameras and suggestive items to be included in future legislation.

Wrapping up the committee meeting was a presentation from Laken Ferreira from Axon, a company that makes body camera technology and provides storage for law enforcement. Ferreira provided the committee with details on how body camera technology works in day to day situations. In addition, she explained the storage options for law enforcement.

Before adjourning, the committee discussed tentative plans for a future meeting. No precise date was set.

Committee members and documents