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Republicans And Democrats In Madison Came Together To Butcher Transparency With Police Body Cams – Governor Needs To Veto SB 789: Opinion

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Kenosha Sheriff’s Lieutenant Chase Forster Demo’s Sheriff’s Department’s New Body Cams
(File Photo by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

Over the last four months, Republicans and Democrats in Madison have fast-tracked a bill that allows police to charge outrageous fees for access to body-worn-camera footage. Senate Bill 789 started out as a very simple bill – it allows police to charge citizens to redact the video footage recorded by police. This means that requesting a video could cost $100 for a short video, to multiple thousands for longer videos with multiple officers or deputies. As legislators do best, they added amendments that made the bill worse. They then added audio redactions to the allowed costs. Then they added another amendment that makes requesters sign a form saying that they won’t use the video to make money. If the form isn’t filled out properly, you can be fined $10,000. Only a few state legislators voted against this terrible bill.

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Police cannot charge requesters to redact police reports. That is settled case law by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and has been since 2012. Why, then do the police want to charge high fees to the public for body-cam footage? Millions of dollars were spent around the country to equip cops with the cameras. The public was OK with the high cost.

The Wisconsin ACLU oppose Senate Bill 789 writing:

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“Lack of transparency and police accountability creates further distrust in law enforcement, making community engagement with law enforcement more fraught and less effective. Ultimately, proposals like SB-789 could allow law enforcement to shirk their obligation to be publicly accountable and further erode the belief that police protect communities rather than only their own.”

Amanda St. Hilaire is the news content manager at FOX6 in Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association also opposes SB 789. Amanda St. Hilaire, the news content manager at FOX6 in Milwaukee, who also writes columns for WNA, had a lot to say about this bill:

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“Fulfilling records requests is already supposed to be part of what these public officials are paid to do, not something extra for which they should be paid again. Imagine police sending a crime victim a bill for the time detectives spend ruling out suspects. After all, these investigations are time-consuming and complex. And why should everyone else have to foot the bill for an investigation into a crime that only affected one person?

It is disingenuous to claim this fee is recuperation of resources because your tax dollars are already supposed to have purchased the work of making public records public. Allowing charges for redactions might even incentivize some records custodians to take more time processing requests.

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Worse, imposing what can easily run to hundreds and even thousands of dollars of redaction costs will make obtaining certain records unaffordable to some requesters, including media outlets that obtain videos as a vital check on law enforcement and corrections workers.

Transparency serves a public good. And the law says there is a presumption these records are public, regardless of who requests them or why they’re making the request.

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Charging individual requesters instead of reallocating resources and taking a closer look at budget priorities sends a dangerous message. The public deserves a system that treats an essential function of government as, well, part of the job.”

There are also many oversights that this bill rushed past without giving any thought to. What about people who use their right to request footage anonymously? How will that work? Some people can get 10 videos free per year. If KCE wants 30 per year, we can just ask for 10 ourselves, and then other people to make the requests and have them provide us with the video – 10 per person? What about the media? Do they count as people that will benefit financially from the footage? If KCE gets a video and pays for it, then Fox6 asks for the same video, do they have to pay again for the redactions, or is it free for them?

Lobbyists Supporting SB 789 are:

Badger State Sheriff’s Association
Milwaukee Police Association
Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association Inc
Wisconsin Professional Police Association
Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association
Wisconsin State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police

Notice anything common here? The police don’t want you to have their body-cam footage. This is just further evidence of what a lot of us think day-to day – neither republicans not democrats give a shit about police transparency. They care about their lobbyists.

Tom Kamenick, President & Founder -The Wisconsin Transparency Project

Tom Tamenick, the president & founder of The Wisconsin Transparency Project has won several public records lawsuits for KCE. He is against SB 789:

“Under current law, requesters already have to pay to get records.  They are paying for something that benefits them.  But redactions provide no value to requesters – rather it makes the records less valuable to them.  Redacting is done for the benefit of other people, and it makes no sense to charge requesters for that process.  Furthermore, once custodians are permitted to charge for redacting videos, I expect we’ll see pushes to allowing charging for redacting other records as well.

I recognize the problem here, that as the use of bodycams has exploded, so have requests for them, and redacting video is both necessary and unusually labor-intensive.  But that cost should not be borne by the record requester.  This law would dramatically discourage requests for video, reducing transparency and police accountability.  A better solution would be to centralize the process of redacting law enforcement video within the DOJ, with state funding for a new unit.  The production of records is a basic and fundamental function of government, and its expense should be spread across all taxpayers.”

Even though the proposed law only allows police departments to charge these fees, it doesn’t force them too. That probably doesn’t matter, says Kamenick. “Currently law already uses the word “may” and expressly permits custodians to waive fees.  Despite that, custodians almost always charge every fee they can (and some they can’t).  I don’t expect that would change.”

The governor needs to see how terrible this bill is and veto it. If he signs it, police might as well stop wearing the cameras and go back to the stone age of the criminal justice system.

Author

  • Kevin Mathewson

    Kevin Mathewson is a disciple of Christ, husband and a father to two wonderful children. Mathewson was born and raised in Lake County, IL and worked as a police & fire dispatcher from 2005 to 2010 in Round Lake Beach, IL. Mathewson moved to Kenosha County in 2006, later being elected to the position of Alderman of the 8th District in 2012 and 2016. Mathewson is a private investigator, security contractor, journalist, and photographer. He enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, camping and boating. His favorite amendment is the second, followed closely by the first. He loves his country and community.

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34 Responses

  1. Every one of Kevins “fans” ARE on his side, here.
    Your comment makes no sense !?!?!
    Body cameras are for the protection and TRUTH on both sides of the camera.

    And what about the “cost savings” both to law enforcement and prosecutors when relevant body cameras video makes the decision to charge and prosecute easier ??

    With police body cameras footage, a crime or abuse of authority is easily or at least easier to ascertain the truth !

    So anyone who thinks that reviewing and redacting body cameras “cost” isn’t calculating in the savings cameras are responsible for !

    Do the Math !!!

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    1. The “costs” aren’t reasonable and along with the penalties are intended to protect the police at the expense of transparency.

      Do the math!!! Herp derp!!!

  2. Transparency is important — and we forget the this evidence supports good law enforcement officers.

    As one Chicago cop said, “I can’t wait to get the body cams. I want people to see what we have to put up with.”

    What if true body cam video was available during the Jacob Blake fiasco?

  3. Hell no! The Governor should sign this bill immediately. Why do we need to know what the police are doing? That transparency argument is is bunch of liberal bullsh**! We need to trust the police with our lives and back them no matter what they do! Our lives would be so much better if we just trust them to always do the right thing. If you don’t, you have something to hide!

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  4. Why are body cameras even necessary and needed ??

    It’s because by human nature people’s recounting of events, especially during high emotion and excitement are fraught with discrepancies.

    Cameras protect everyone.

    That said, if NOBODY did anything wrong, police or suspects or innocent public bystanders, then we wouldn’t need to have the unbiased perfect recording to sort out both the truth and the cover ups.

    Cameras are everywhere. On our street corners, in government buildings, in every store we shop and in the not so distant future we will all have one clipped on our shirts connected to the phone in our pockets. To protect ourselves without others around us playing to the camera.
    And only then, maybe, will the world realize that you can’t get away with anything ! So don’t try.

  5. Watch & see if the local GOP still supports Nedweski, after her pro-choice bill, and now this.

    She’s gotta go. Toss the RINOs!

      1. Because she’s turned into a Vos-bot. I’ve never been as disappointed in an elected public servant, as I am her. She crashed and burned hard & fast and all we can do is hope, pray, and vote that a strong-minded conservative will unseat this twit.

        1. I haven’t figured her out and she’s my state representative.

          Her proposed constitutional amendment is a compromise that probably would survive a challenge.

  6. In today’s whacked out world cops need some anonymity. The attacks they receive from making body cam footage available to every crackpot is overwhelmingly dangerous for them. We should do more to protect our officers.

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    1. That cop’s shown on released body cameras will be targeted off duty ?

      For someone to try to attack an off duty cop in public deserves getting shot at or worse, killed.

      All we want is honest application of the laws.
      Maybe we need police to take relevant law classes continuously every month. One day a month. A full 8 hour shift. With a test afterwards. That cost will be less than the lawsuits paid out for not policing correctly.

      1. I know cops that have had to move because they were identified. Cops shouldn’t have to walk around with eyes behind their heads when off duty. But they do. KPD officers have been stalked, bullets fired at their homes.

  7. Bad cops made body cams a necessity. Tough shit for everyone else who doesn’t like it.

    This is how the world works….a few bad apples end up fucking it up for everyone.

  8. Obnoxious internet wanna-be celebrities and hilariously named “1st Amendment Observers” are scooping up every available cop related video…. hoping to see something in order to file ridiculous complains. They also edit these videos to make the cops look bad.

    This has all become costly to law enforcement. Someone has to sit and blur out faces, license plates, etc to avoid lawsuits from innocent bystanders. It takes time and money.

    Anyone wanting tons of body cam video should have to pay the cost of it. If not, the taxpayers will be the ones covering the costs.

    Area departments already try to put out some videos to appease the whiney public know it alls who think they need to armchair quarterback every police chase. They cannot release everything for free.

    1. This is exactly right. Lots of people are making money off of the this by posting police bodycam footage to YouTube channels, getting tons of views, and subsequently scoring ad sponsors. The “CodeBlueCam” channel is known for posting Wisconsin police videos and has made money off of both KPD and KSD bodycams, some with view counts in the millions. Taxpayers essentially put money in the pockets of youtubers.

  9. Anything in public is public !
    You accept cameras everywhere you go.
    At the dmv.
    At the village halls.
    Even an anonymous FOIA requester can be looked at by government officials on cameras and retaliated against.
    If you don’t want your picture taken stay home and crawl back under your rock.

  10. I wish teachers have to wear body cams, we pay their salary too and deserve to know the garbage some of them are pushing on the kids.

  11. All politicians should be required to wear body cams at any point conducting business, and we should all have access to them unredacted. And if caught discussing politics without their bodycam in, should be immediate removal from whatever postion they’re in. What do THEY have to hide?

  12. I am with Kevin and Tom Kamenick on this one. Law Enforcement should not be redacting any record that is part of a lawful public records request.

    What good are the records if they do not truly shed light on the information contained within?

  13. The taxpayer pays for all the cameras and everything that goes with it from our taxes, technically we own the property already and technically we own the officers and workers while they’re on our payroll. So that means all of the equipment, all of the data stored on the equipment, all of the backup equipment to store data, and the officers recording whatever situation is on the camera, and everything associated with getting that information to me as a Wisconsin citizen, has already been paid for once through the budget. So all I would be in favor of is a $5 processing fee for a waiver that you wouldn’t put it on YouTube and such. right? …… I’ll bring my own flash drive or disc.

  14. Seems like this discussion has evolved into police officers safety.

    Police and police supporters are saying that body camera video reveal officers identity’s.
    And that unhinged individuals will take that knowledge and act unilaterally against police that they deem wrong and abusive.

    Supporters of unfettered release of body camera video say that this gives police another reason to check their conduct both for lawfulness and unwarranted behavior.

    Yet the whole point here today with Kevins writing is charging the public for the cost of officers safety.
    That’s it !! Dollars.

    Truly if police didn’t violate citizens rights and acted correctly every time we wouldn’t need body cameras. But they don’t.

    And that’s the “Cost” of doing business.

    The police are able to redact anything they deem officer safety related with the requester then deciding if the redactions are too much.

    But that’s on them and their budget.
    A cost society overall must bear.

  15. Amanda St. Hilaire:
    “Fulfilling records requests is already supposed to be part of what these public officials are paid to do, not something extra for which they should be paid again. Imagine police sending a crime victim a bill for the time detectives spend ruling out suspects. After all, these investigations are time-consuming and complex. And why should everyone else have to foot the bill for an investigation into a crime that only affected one person?”

    I would argue this same point when it comes to ambulance fees charged by fire departments. We pay taxes to support our government agencies. Why should municipalities be allowed to charge for providing services that are already paid by our taxes? Maybe we could use that as an argument to reduce taxes. Let’s eliminate property taxes and send citizens a bill when they request services. Need an ambulance? Get a bill for services. Need the police? Get a bill for police response (charge more if a crime is interrupted and an offender captured. After all, that involves more work…) That way, only the people using the service pay for it. Why should I, as a citizen, pay for the police or fire departments to respond to crimes that do not involve me?

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