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The La Crosse Police Department is the latest law enforcement agency in Wisconsin to equip officers with body-worn cameras.

A total of 88 officers and investigators by June will be outfitted with the technology that can increase transparency, strengthen criminal cases, protect officers from complaints and hold them accountable, Assistant Chief Rob Abraham said.

“In today’s law enforcement environment, officers realize the camera is their friend,” he said. “We realize that body cameras only provide a two-dimensional view of what the officer experiences, but they do provide the best vantage point.”

The department outfitted its neighborhood resource officers with the cameras in 2015 and training for the rest of the officers began Tuesday.

The cameras, which officers can choose to wear on their shoulder or chest, will capture incidents missed by cameras stationed in squad cars, Abraham said.

“Our squad cars are equipped with five different camera angles,” he said. “But the technology now is moving toward an officer’s ability to capture video away from their vehicles.”

The city approved $200,000 in this year’s capital equipment budget to buy the cameras, train officers how to use them and to store footage for one year. Annual maintenance is about $90,000.

Officers must record contact with suspects or the public by department policy. High-definition video uploads to a secure network when an officer comes within range of City Hall and is stored for at least 120 days.

Footage captured on the cameras is subject to release under the state open-record law, although police argue that the state’s legislators should revise the law to clarify whether video from inside a private house should be made public.

“Law enforcement need direction,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

Currently, no state agency tracks the number of police departments in Wisconsin using body-worn cameras, Palmer said.

Nationwide, 25 percent of the country’s agencies were using the cameras in 2013. At the end of 2016, 36 of the nation’s 69 largest agencies implemented cameras; that number rose to 62 by the end of last year.

Studies consistently show that body-worn cameras result in fewer use of force complaints, affirm officer behavior and provide stronger evidence for criminal cases, Palmer said.

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Police and courts reporter

Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

(8) comments

Cassandra2

The cameras should record every minute of an officer's shift and not have the ability to be turned off or muted. We've seen examples elsewhere of critical data that was lost because the officers turned off or muted the recorders. Turning them off, muting them, or tampering with the recordings should be a fireable offense.

union conservative

It is to bad we need tools like cameras to do the job of a police officer. Where did this country go wrong? Oh wait, we opened up the gates and a judge allowed an attorney to start an assault on law enforcement. It doesn’t matter what anyone does there actions will always be judged. That is the world we live in. Zero respect for authority. And zero tolerance for ignorance.

Cassandra2

Of course it couldn't be that some officers are corrupt or abusive. Naw, of course not.

oz

There have been recent instances of police abuse where the cameras were conveniently turned off at critical times. I hope the La Crosse body-cams do NOT have a switch that the officer can control.

Climatehoax

So you don’t think cops are smart enough to cover them, knock them off, or do something else so they’re not functioning as they should? Cops are our line of defense between the sane and the crazies. They should have more leeway in how they do their job, not mor restrictions. Put the hammer down BLUE! Take out the trash. Turn your back when you really need to get the job done the RIGHT way

Cassandra2

Advocating for summary justice and ending due process again, Hoaxer?

Jobaba

After the frantic citizens wired their entire downtown to spy on themselves, finally this. Are they sure they wouldn't rather put cameras on the citizens just to help out our heroes? And now, what about all the other small town around here? Wasn't it Ona and West Salem and Bangor that were going in on a grant 3 years ago? Said we would hear in a couple months? Yup, nothing yet. And then West Salem gets a drone to oversee its citizens because some scared do-gooder gave them the money...still no body cameras. Ya know, when the cops want something...dogs, tanks, drones...they get it. Seems like all the city cops are fighting these cameras.

Monteee

"....increase transparency, strengthen criminal cases, protect officers from complaints and hold them accountable..."

And they can protect citizens, too. If a police officer gives a not-so-accurate account of an incident, the camera footage could refute it.

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