Proposed Bill Calls for Major Changes in Handling of Body Camera Footage

Over the last several years, an increasing number of law enforcement agencies here in Wisconsin and across the nation have adopted policies requiring officers to be outfitted with body cameras that record any interaction with the public.

This move has been hastened in large part by public outcry over the longstanding lack of transparency concerning officer-involved shootings, use of excessive force and other allegations of misconduct. Indeed, the footage recorded by these body cameras can definitively establish the actions of a particular officer and ensure that justice has been served.

As invaluable as body camera footage has proven as a check against misconduct, a crime-fighting tool and as reassurance to the community, two state lawmakers are now circulating legislation that would curtail public access to it.

Specifically, Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Rep. Jesse Kremer (R- Kewaskum) are seeking co-sponsors for a bill that, if passed, would do the following:

  • Exempt footage of events recorded in public — with the exception of arrests, searches, injuries, deaths and officer-involved shootings — from the open records law
  • Require law enforcement to secure permission from witnesses, victims, or property owners before releasing footage to the public if it was taken in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy (i.e., homes)
  • Allow law enforcement to destroy footage after 120 days provided that 1) it’s not related to an arrest, search, injury or death, and 2) it’s not the subject of a special request or order demanding preservation beyond the passage of 120-days

Given that this proposed bill was released just this week, it remains to be seen just how receptive fellow lawmakers and the law enforcement community prove to be. However, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the largest police union in the Dairy State, has expressed measured support for the bill, calling it a “constructive starting point.”

It will be interesting to see what transpires in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned for updates …

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