Study committee members say statewide standards needed for police body cam implementation

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Members of a commission tasked with tackling legislation on the use of police body cams agree that the Legislature should set some minimum standards on their implementation statewide.

But they vary greatly on the parameters of the bill, as well as what measures it should include to govern things such as the retention of body cam footage and more.

The Leg Council Study Committee on the Use of Police Body Cameras was created after legislation that would have set uniform standards for the retention and release of body camera footage died this session. There were two different bills: one from GOP Sen. Patrick Testin and Rep. Jesse Kremer, which cleared the Assembly but wasn’t taken up by the full Senate; and another from Dem Sen. Chris Larson and Rep. Chris Taylor, which never got a hearing.

While the body hasn’t taken a position on either bill, the differences in approach under those pieces of legislation bled into the commission’s proceedings yesterday, when members met at the Leg Council office in Madison.

Taylor, the commission’s vice chair, called for legislation that would outline standards for when body cams should be recording during interactions with people. The Madison Dem in her bill outlined when such encounters should be filmed.

But Testin, the chair, cautioned against “mandating too much.” His bill relied heavily on law enforcement agencies’ recording policies, and didn’t stipulate when cameras should be recording.

Other members agreed with Testin, R-Stevens Point, including fellow commission members Monroe County DA Kevin Croninger and Brown Deer Police Chief Mike Kass.

“It’s not up to the Legislature to come up with some model policy,” Kass said, adding: “Don’t legislate down to that minutiae of every single time it has to be on or off.”

But Taylor argued the public should have a general idea as to when to officers will be filming their interactions.

“I agree we don’t want to micromanage … but there has to be some expectation about when these cameras are on or off,” she said.

Members also talked about the need for guidelines surrounding data retention, as police departments will have to pay for storing the footage and all won’t likely have the budget for unlimited space; and open records-related concerns.

They largely agreed on legislation that would set up different tiers dictating how long law enforcement agencies would need to retain footage in different situations.

Taylor’s bill had called for retaining footage for six months, while Testin’s bill laid out 120 days as the baseline. Taylor’s bill also contains requirements to retain footage for 42 months or until the issue is resolved under a series of incidents, including: discharging a firearm, use of force, death or bodily harm and more.

But Testin’s bill only laid out three situations in which footage must be retained until the completion of the case: death or physical injury; custodial arrest; and a search during an authorized temporary questioning.

Taylor called for legislation that would set up a retention schedule specifically in the case of a discharged weapon or the use of force.

But Croninger argued that language would be “a bit redundant,” adding: “If you’re discharging your firearm at a human being, it will result in a review process.”

Taylor countered: “I’d rather, if evidence is potentially going to be destroyed, I’d rather be more inclusive at least on the front end than less inclusive.”

Testin agreed there are some aspects from Taylor’s bill that could end up in a final draft.

“I think there’s some things we can incorporate,” he said.

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