Body cameras proposed for MPD officers

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In the wake of a string of high-profile shootings of black men by police, Ald. Tony Zielinski is urging Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to include the cost of outfitting MPD officers with body cameras in his next budget, which will be introduced this month.

An increasing number of police departments around the nation, including in Ferguson, Missouri, are now outfitting officer uniforms with video cameras to record interactions with the public as well as suspects in criminal matters. 

A year-long study conducted by the Police Foundation found 50 percent fewer incidents involving use of force and nearly 10 times fewer citizens’ complaints after Rialto, California, officers used cameras during their patrol shifts. 

“These cameras are a win-win situation,” Zielinski said. “They’re a win for citizens and taxpayers. If you look at this incident with the shooting (of Dontre Hamilton) at Red Arrow Park, if there had been a body camera, we wouldn’t be spending all this money on an investigation. If a police officer goes to someone’s house and says, ‘I’ve got a camera on,’ the perpetrator is much less likely to engage in disruptive behavior requiring the use of force.”

Cameras would also put the public more at ease in working with police, Zielinski added.

Both Barrett and MPD Chief Edward Flynn have said they are open to the strategy — as have the majority of other aldermen, Zielinski said. He said plans are underway to start a pilot program using about 50 cameras.

Details of that pilot program had yet to be announced as WiG headed to press. “The devil’s going to be in ironing out the details — when you turn it on, when you turn it off, and so on,” Zielinski said.

He added that he only would back a resolution to adopt police cameras if it contained the stipulation of purchasing American-made equipment.

An online petition calling on MPD to outfit its force with wearable cameras claims that the city ranks among the top five nationally for police misconduct. 

Nearly 2,200 people have signed the petition, which calls on Barrett to designate city dollars for the cameras.