Ashwaubenon to proceed with body camera program
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The village board voted Nov. 24 to proceed with a body camera program for the public safety department.
However, the details on how that program will be implemented and funded are not yet finalized.
Brian Uhl, Ashwaubenon’s public safety chief, said a body camera program was one of his goals for the department budget in 2021.
“I think it’s an important program for Ashwaubenon public safety,” he said. “I believe this program is something that will be good for both the officers and the community.”
Uhl said he previously was involved with body camera programs in two agencies he worked for prior to coming to Ashwaubenon.
“From an administrative point of view, not only does it protect our officers, but it protects our citizens as well,” he said. “It provides for our officers to put forth a better quality product in the form of reports to the DA’s (district attorney’s) office, it allows our DA’s office to put forth better prosecutions, and it saves time and money in both of those regards.”
Uhl said the community wants public safety officers to be accountable for their actions, which the officers also want.
“Having this type of program, though, we get to see the whole incident as it occurred, how it occurred, not just the 10- or 15-second video that sometimes gets put on TV shows, media, that type of thing,” he said.
Uhl said the body camera program is “an insurance policy for the village as well.”
“It can protect us from claims that are unjust, but it also can protect us from these low-frequency, high-risk incidents that become public,” he said.
Uhl said a downfall of a body camera program is cost.
“With budgets the way they are, it’s expensive, it really is,” he said.
Uhl said the program can also take up time, such as with open records requests for body camera video.
“So with the video, we have to redact certain things, based on open records laws,” he said. “I believe we have the staff here to accommodate that, so I don’t think that’s a really big challenge for us, quite honestly.”
Uhl said a body camera program could cost from $350,000 to $400,000 over a five-year period with a combination of the initial purchase and data storage.
“There’s probably at least five different companies out there that I want to explore as to what might be the best fit for our agency,” he said. “And depending on what those companies are and what we do, it’s really going to depend greatly on what the cost for us is going to be.”
The board went in closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss how to fund a body camera program as it relates to negotiations for price, etc., but took no action following the closed session.
Village President Mary Kardoskee said she is an advocate for body cameras, but doesn’t know how to fund them.
“I think we need to start the discussion at some point, because I think to ensure the health and welfare of all law enforcement officers in the coming times – I’ve said this to Brian (Uhl) before – I think this is going to become mandatory,” she said. “You won’t have a choice. You will have to do it.”
Uhl said the only downside of the program, in his opinion, is cost and how to fund it.
“We have to worry about storage,” he said. “We have to worry about laws and regulations for how long we keep these videos, and so, those are the things that we have to address internally as a policy issue. But that’s where the costs come in as well.”
Trustee Jay Krueger said he wants the public safety department to have a system where body cameras would turn on automatically, because an officer might not do so manually.
“I’d hate to see the burden be put on the officer that (says) ‘Oops, I forgot to turn it on,’” he said. “Because as you know, we can write all the policies we want, but what happens at that moment (an officer) might not have that opportunity to turn the camera on.”
Uhl said he could write policy mandating body cameras be turned on when officers are interacting with citizens, they draw their weapon or their emergency lights come on, but he agreed with Krueger they wouldn’t always remember to do that.
“Automation is becoming the key, and a lot of these companies are really capitalizing on that and how to automate it,” he said. “They’ve got sensors on your holster. If you draw your weapon, it automatically comes on. If you turn your (emergency) lights on in the squad, it automatically comes on. Automation is really becoming a key, but it’s not driving your cost down, either.”
Uhl said it’s his experience officers are more likely not to manually turn on a body camera in high-risk incidents where it’s needed.
Body camera options
When contacted following the meeting, Uhl said the village is looking at its options for funding, including grants and private funding from the community.
“I have been in contact with several manufactures of (body-worn cameras) and will look to have the officers review these cameras to see what system best suits our needs,” he said. “Things to consider are costs, both initial and annual costs, automation options, wearability for officers, functionality with other agencies to include the DA’s office, redaction services to address privacy concerns, as well as expansion to other recording areas, such as the squads and interview rooms.”
Uhl said availability of the cameras for use by the public safety department will depend on when the village can secure funding, and how long it takes to determine a manufacturer.