Milwaukee patrol officers may soon be required to wear body cameras, if a proposal by Mayor Tom Barrett is approved. This way, Milwaukee is going to be one of the largest American cities to have taken this measure.
The mayor aims to spend $880,000of the local budget, so that 1,200 patrol officers are equipped with body cameras by the end of next year.
“I want our police officers to be in a position to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that they are acting professionally”, explained Barrett in a press conference.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn expressed his support with the mayor’s proposal, suggesting that many of his fellow officers are favorable to its implementation. At the moment, the project is in its testing phase. Patrol officers are already receiving training for operating body cameras, and such devices could start being in use within the next months. The proposal will be reviewed by the Common Council starting from September 22, and amendments will be made the following weeks.
The most controversial aspect of this measure is the fact that officers will be able to turn off their cameras in some cases. For instance, when interviewing the victim of a sensitive crime video recording may be interrupted. This may perpetuate the abuse of power that some patrol officers have been found guilty of.
In recent years, there has been extensive media coverage regarding the death of several unarmed African Americans, who were shot by white police officers. Moreover, murder rates have spiked in the United States lately, more than 30 cities reporting a larger number of violent crimes. Possible factors contributing to this situation are drug-related street gang rivalries, poverty turning young people into lawbreakers, and the widespread availability of guns.
Due to this surge in violent acts, many American cities are currently testing ways to make police departments more transparent and more accountable for their actions. Naysayers however claim that heightened media scrutiny of the use of force by patrol officers has encouraged delinquents to commit more heinous crimes, because policemen tend to be more subdued and less aggressive nowadays.
One solution is the one proposed by Mayor Tom Barrett. Nevertheless, the costs related to applying such measures even at local level tend to be prohibitive. It costs between $350 and $700 to provide such surveillance equipment for one person, and city budgets are usually tight. For Milwaukee in particular, it would cost approximately $1 million in 2017 to enable the use of body cameras by every patrol officer and to ensure video storage also.
However, the Los Angeles Police Department has already started equipping some of its police force with body cameras. This is the largest scale effort of its kind in the U.S. and it may be extended to other cities also if it proves successful.
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