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Alder Juliana Bennett

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Alder Juliana Bennett

Council Office

Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Bennett’s Blog

The Upcoming Body Camera Resolution is Poorly Written

January 13, 2022 10:41 AM

The Upcoming Body Camera Resolution is poorly written

Following the discussion on body-worn cameras at the Jan. 12 Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC), I find it necessary to put my thoughts in my blog for those that were unable to make it to the meeting. 

Not only do I not support body-cameras for the City of Madison, but I also believe that the recent resolution regarding body cams (Legistar 68625) is poorly written. Specifically, the resolution does not address the Body-worn Camera (BWC) Feasibility committee's recommendation for preconditions, recommendations from the Quatrone report, and the lack of funding from the operating budget to make the pilot successful. I also don't believe that a 90-day pilot program is sufficient for the data-driven research we need, if we were to pursue a pilot. Furthermore, the parties and policies necessary to review body-camera footage are not readily in place.


Body-worn Camera Feasibility Committee Recommendations 

The resolution does note that the committee met 26 times over seven months and came to the conclusion of recommending body-cams according to specific requirements and policies. However, no groundwork has been done to meet the 10 pre-conditions noted in the report. These conditions include:

  1. "MPD has formally adopted the BWC policies recommended by the Body-Worn Camera Feasibility Review Committee with, at most, minor modifications that do not alter the essential substance and principles outlined in this Report and in the Model Policy, which are designed to minimize officer discretion, minimize potential bias in the captured images, protect legitimate privacy interests, minimize opportunities for exacerbating racial disparities and increased criminalization of marginalized groups, minimize opportunities for mass surveillance of civilians, ensure the integrity of the recordings, enhance accountability and transparency, and enhance access to the truth."

    MPD and the Police Civilian Oversight Board (PCOB) has neither agreed nor set specific policies. Shadayara Kilfoy-Flores, stated in the PSRC meeting that she may personally support body-cameras, but this resolution "puts the cart before the horse", because these policies aren't in place yet. 

  2. "Accompanying all disclosure or release of BWC footage shall be a statement, either written as a document or added to the beginning of the video, informing viewers of the perceptual bias (detailed below) inherent in viewing BWC video footage, with an instruction to the viewer to consider this risk and its impact before reaching a conclusion about the footage, in order to arrive at valid judgements."

    This is a condition not addressed in the resolution. MPD has also not laid the groundwork for what the disclosure process and statement will look like. 

  3. "Given ongoing advances in research, experts on cognitive and perceptual biases should periodically be consulted for recommendations on steps that should be taken [1] Elek, J. K., Ware, L. J., & Ratcliff, J. J. (2012). Knowing when the camera lies: Judicial instructions mitigate the camera perspective bias. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 17(1), 123-135. 10 to best mitigate these biases in judgements based on body camera footage (e.g., specific trainings for prosecutors, etc.), and appropriate actions should be taken, based on these recommendations."

    Chief Barnes mentioned in the meeting that this is a step that could be taken during the pilot. This would also require Madison Common Council to hire an expert or consultant, during the pilot. This resolution ignores the funds needed to hire this person(s). We should have these people on processes of review prior to starting a pilot. 

  4. "The Independent Police Monitor and Police Civilian Oversight Board are fully operational and have access to BWC video footage as set forth elsewhere in this report and model policy"

    PCOB is still in the process of hiring an Independent Monitor. Plus, as stated in the PSRC meeting, the PCOB needs at least another year to be fully operational in order to handle the additional burden of body-cameras. 

  5. "The City and MPD have made substantial and sustained progress toward adopting the other reforms recommended by the previous Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee, especially in the areas of Accountability, Use of Force, and Response to Critical Incidents."

    This is another example of putting the cart before the horse. I am certain the city has not implemented major changes towards accountability measures. A person during the PSRC meeting stated, "ACCOUNTABILITY COMES BEFORE CAMERAS". I couldn't agree more. 

  6. "A system and or process for sharing BWC video footage files – preferably an electronic file sharing system if feasible – with the Dane County District Attorney's Office and the Public Defender's Office in time for informing charging decisions for cases referred by MPD for potential criminal charges."

    An electronic file sharing system most certainly is not in place. 

  7. "The Dane County District Attorney's Office has formally enacted a policy to review any relevant BWC video before making a charging decision in any case referred by MPD where BWC video is available."

    The DA's office has not been contacted yet. 

  8. "The Dane County District Attorney's Office has firmly committed to measures sufficient to prevent an overall increase in charging rates and criminalization in lowlevel offenses caused by MPD BWC implementation.

    The DA's office has not agreed to such conditions. 

  9. "Arrangements have been made for a rigorous, randomized controlled trial as a pilot program, with tracking and analysis of data on key outcomes, and particularly prosecutorial charging rates. A primary use of the trial would be to determine if charging rates and pleading rates are increased, particularly for misdemeanors, for cases in which BWC video is available. If there is statistically significant evidence of an increase in charging rates, particularly for misdemeanors, which can be causally connected to the implementation of BWCs, measures sufficient to fully offset the increase should be taken before BWC program continuation or more widespread BWC implementation. If expansion of implementation occurs after the pilot program, MPD, as well as the Dane County District Attorney's Office, should continue to collect data on the effects of BWCs to continue to ascertain if BWCs are producing increases in charging rates for low-level offenses or other unintended negative consequences. If so, the City should take the necessary steps vis-à-vis the MPD and/or the District Attorney's Office to fully offset any unintended negative consequences."

    This is one of the most important recommendations pertaining to this pilot that has not been addressed. If adopted, the pilot should be a rigorous, randomized controlled trial! Chief Barnes said something to the effect of once we introduce the pilot then research would be done and there needs to be processes for feedback, data-collection etc. The way in which this resolution is being introduced ignores the rigorous aspect of doing a pilot. The resolution essentially gives the impression that "we'll figure it out as we go". That certainly isn't the mindset we should have going into a pilot of this caliber. 

  10. "The Common Council should engage in informed deliberation on whether resources required for BWC implementation would best be allocated to BWC implementation or other competing needs."

    This is a fabulous recommendation. One in which also hasn't been met. Alder Heck noted in the PSRC meeting that we have not received an accurate fiscal note of body-cams pilot and full-implementation. The fiscal notes that were made in the BWC Feasibility Report and on the current budget item are based on conjecture not fact. We should not take on a pilot-program until we have a full-fleshing itemized list of the costs we're talking about. Like Alder Benford stated, we are in a pandemic! Do we really think that BWC is the best use of our time and resources in this economically unstable time? I agree with what Alder Heck said in the meeting that we are grossly under-estimating how much BWC will cost. I will also reiterate what myself and Alder Benford stated--there are so many other worthy causes, especially pertaining to public safety, that need this money more than BWC. 


Quattrone Center Report Recommendations

It was transparent, during the CCEC meeting in which we received a presentation from the Quattrone Center representatives and MPD, that some alders cherry-picked the recommendation for body-cameras, as the only item they intended to follow-up on. This is quite unfortunate, because there are other recommendations worth noting. A recommendation that is of particular use for this resolution is that any changes pertaining to the police should be a dual effort with both community activists/leaders and MPD. The resolution before us expects the Chief of Police to be the sole leader of any efforts regarding body cams. This grossly undermines the Quattrone Center's recommendations and once again alienates local activists/leaders from having a say in police accountability measures. 

It is important to note that there was an unfortunate and significant lack of input from local activists in the report. Their input on the matters in the report and on body-cams is vital. Their voices should not be ignored. 


A BWC pilot Requires an operating budget amendment

This should be self-explanatory to all alders and any of those who have engaged in the city budget previously. The operating budget manages the financing necessary to pay staff for reviewing the body-cam footage and consultants we may hire per the BWC Feasibility Report recommendations. Purchasing the equipment for the body-cams is a capital budget item. Even the BWC Feasibility report noted that an operating budget item is necessary for the pilot. Therefore, the implementation of a BWC pilot program needs an operating budget amendment. 

The resolution assumes that MPD will be able to absorb the operating costs in the overtime funds. Historically, MPD has used most if not all of overtime wages. We shouldn't be diving deep into overtime hours for this program, if/when the costs are not sufficient to support the pilot. The overtime fund is not a slush fund for predictable expenses. Overtime is for unforeseen emergencies. It should not be allocated to this pilot.


The Idea of a 90-day Northside Pilot is senseless and insufficient

Chief Barnes stated in the meeting that 90-days for this pilot might be sufficient. I have to disagree. For example, the CARES pilot is a year-long process, in which we are already a few months into. Public safety employees have repeatedly stated that we don't have enough evidence for full-implementation of the CARES program. A BWC pilot is no different. The original plan for the BWC pilot was for it to be for one year. Plus, the fact remains that a rigorous, randomized controlled trial as a pilot program cannot be completed within 90 days. 


Furthermore, why should the pilot be on the Northside over other districts in Madison? Different districts have different needs and different police interactions. I believe we should be choosing the district that has the most police interaction and/or is impacted the most by police presence. Others opinions may differ. So what is the process used to identify the best location for a pilot?



There are so many other questions that need to be answered before we implement a pilot program. What questions in the pilot do we want answered? How will we collect data? Who will examine the data? What is the best location for a pilot? How many cameras do we need in order to collect the data we want? Who will be wearing the cameras? How will Covid impact the data we collect? What is the length of time needed to gather sufficient data? What will be the IM's and PCOB's role in the pilot? How much funds are actually needed for the pilot? Where will we get those funds? Are those funds better used elsewhere? How can we best address the BWC Feasibility report's 10 preconditions? I appreciate Chief Barnes' data-driven, evidence-based approach to policing. This approach will not be achieved with this resolution. 


Any BWC pilot needs to be well-thought out and driven by data--a rigorous, randomized control trial. This resolution offers an uncontrolled trial, in which many of the questions that should be answered before bringing this resolution to council haven't yet been answered. 


All this said, I stand firm in opposition to body-cams and a pilot thereof. However, there is an abundance of evidence, which demonstrates that those who do support body-cams, should not support this resolution. 


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