Assembly committee approves police body camera bill

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The Wisconsin State Assembly’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday to send a bill to the floor that addressed issues surrounding the use of police body cameras. The committee voted along party lines. The bill passed 8-4.

Among other things, the bill would set in place a process for the release of police body camera video when the video shows victims or witnesses who have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The WBA has registered as neutral on the bill with stated concerns about limits the bill would put on media access to the videos. The bill would require law enforcement to seek permission to release the video from victims or witnesses who can be seen or heard in the video. The approval process could take as long as two weeks.

Republicans in support of the bill cited privacy concerns for citizens and said the bill would encourage more police departments to use body cameras. Democrats registered concerns related to transparency and said the bill would hinder efforts to improve relationships between police and citizens.

Broadcasters polled by the WBA said the balancing test used to determine when records should be released has worked to this point and that this bill creates a separate class of open records. Broadcasters said they make it a practice to protect victims and witnesses by obscuring their identities when they appear in photos and videos.

The WBA will continue with efforts to amend the bill to address broadcasters concerns.