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.
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“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.