It’s Time for Madison Police Officers to Wear Body Cameras

by Safety Connection

During February, the Madison Police Department is offering informational sessions with two police body-worn camera manufacturers so the public can learn more about the technology. The city has been debating body-worn cameras for almost a decade now and the latest 8-month study (completed in early 2021) recommended implementing a pilot program in the North District on a 5-1 vote. The funds have been approved and have been in the city the budget for that 90-day pilot, but for more than a year, the Common Council has been continually referring the decision to various committees. They will finally vote on the matter at the council meeting on April 19th.

Most of the police agencies in the Dane County equip their officers with body-worn cameras including Middleton, Monona, Sun Prairie, UWPD and Fitchburg. And almost 2/3 of the agencies in Wisconsin have body cameras. President Joe Biden is on record saying that police should be required to wear body cameras to “protect the safety and rights of police officers and citizens,” and Americans overwhelmingly support equipping police with body cameras (almost 90% of Americans).

MPD’s first body-cam public informational session took place last Thursday (2/10) at the Memorial Union. The next one is scheduled for this Thursday (2/17) at 6:30pm on Zoom.

West side Madison resident and Madison Area Safety Connection partner Bonnie Roe offered her recap of last Thursday’s informational meeting and encourages Madison residents to reach out to their alders and speak at the April 19th meeting to ensure that the pilot program can finally move forward:

“I attended the Body-Worn Camera Roundtable put on by MPD and Axon last Thursday night and it was a great event. It was a racially and ideologically diverse group, with community members, police officers, a couple alders, and Axon Community Action representatives in the room. There was no sales pitch, nor were any prices of anything mentioned. They made it clear that they were not the sales team. No personal information was collected during this meeting. It’s a competitive process, with 2 of the top vendors, Axon and Panasonic, and Panasonic will have an opportunity to inform the community about their product and answer questions on Feb. 24.

The meeting was very informative and gave community members a lot of time for discussion, questions, and input. We discussed case studies, various features, and learned about and gave thoughts on policies.

We learned how body cameras can be used to tie in mental health professionals and supervisors not even on scene to give helpful guidance on a call when they can’t be there.

We learned about important safeguards built into the technology. For example, buffering technology that captures 30 seconds to 2 minutes before the officer hits the record button. Also, footage can be recalled from the vendor if the officer forgets to turn on a body camera. And all the built-in ways a body camera turns itself on automatically, for example when an officer draws their sidearm, taser, activates squad lights, etc. 

Our police department has been involved in five officer-involved critical incidents since October. We have many officers out on investigative leave, and our department is already stretched way too thin to handle the number of 911 calls coming in. Video footage, especially body camera footage, speeds up investigations and allows people to see what transpired in real time, often from multiple vantage points.

In the most recent officer-involved critical incident, 21 agents/officers were involved on scene and according to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, none of them were wearing body cameras, including the two DCI agents who fired their guns. This is unacceptable in the 21st century and on such a high stakes arrest. We should demand that all officers wear body cameras in these times for the accountability and transparency they provide on both sides of the camera. Instead, the Madison Common Council has so far refused to equip our Madison Police officers with body cameras.

A resolution for a pilot in the north district is scheduled for the Common Council meeting on April 19. The costs are very minimal and already budgeted ($83,000). I think it’s time we collect our own data and learn from our own local pilot whether and how to best implement these cameras in our City. They are considered a best practice for 21st century policing and the vast majority of the public favors their use (85-95%, depending on the survey), and that percentage is highest among Black Americans.

It is important to educate ourselves on body-worn cameras and be willing to register to give public comments at the April 19th Common Council meeting to show support for the implementation of the pilot.  I’m happy to meet up or chat with anyone who has questions, concerns or needs more information or get you in touch with Chief Barnes or others who could provide the perspective of a local expert in the field.

Let’s make this a priority together!  Ways you can contribute: Attend these body cam meetings. 

Send letters in support of body-worn cameras to:


Call or meet with your alder specifically.

Most importantly, register to give public comments (limited to 3 minutes, no video) at the April 19 Common Council meeting. More details and links to come as that date approaches.”

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