KENOSHA HAS PUT OFF PUR­CHASE OF PO­LICE BODY­CAMS FOR YEARS

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY RYAN J. FO­LEY

City and law en­force­ment lead­ers in Kenosha, Wis­con­sin, unan­i­mously en­dorsed the use of body cam­eras in 2017 as a way to in­crease po­lice ac­count­abil­ity and col­lect ev­i­dence at scenes of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, among other ben­e­fits.

But since then, they have balked at the price tag, raised pol­icy con­cerns and put off im­ple­men­ta­tion. The de­lays meant that of­fi­cers who were on the scene of Sun­day’s shoot­ing of Ja­cob Blake while re­spond­ing to a do­mes­tic call were not equipped with tech­nol­ogy that could give their per­spec­tive on an in­ci­dent that has roiled the na­tion.

In­stead, the pub­lic has only seen video cap­tured by a neigh­bor that shows one or more of­fi­cers shoot­ing Blake, 29, in the back sev­eral times as the Black man walked away from them, opened his SUV’s driver-side door and leaned into the ve­hi­cle. It doesn’t show what hap­pened be­fore or af­ter the shoot­ing like body cam­era footage would.

The shoot­ing sparked civil un­rest in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 peo­ple be­tween Mil­wau­kee and Chicago. But it also shined a light on Kenosha’s de­lays in equip­ping its roughly 200 po­lice of­fi­cers with body-worn cam­eras, which has made the city fall be­hind many of its neigh­bors and sim­i­lar-sized peers.

“This is a tragedy. But at least some good could come from this if this is fi­nally the in­ci­dent where Kenosha says, ‘we’ve got to get body cam­eras on these cops right away,’ ” said Kevin Mathew­son, a for­mer mem­ber of the com­mon coun­cil.

Kenosha Mayor John An­taramian con­firmed Mon­day that cur­rent plans call for the city to buy them in 2022 — more than five years af­ter he en­dorsed their adop­tion. Kenosha of­fi­cers do have cam­eras in their squad cars, but it’s un­clear whether any cap­tured the shoot­ing.

Mathew­son pushed the city to buy cam­eras dur­ing his ten­ure on the coun­cil from 2012 to 2017, say­ing he saw them as a tool to re­move bad po­lice of­fi­cers from the de­part­ment af­ter a se­ries of trou­bling use-of-force and mis­con­duct in­ci­dents. Body cam­eras be­came par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar na­tion­wide as a way to im­prove polic­ing af­ter the 2014 fa­tal shoot­ing of Michael Brown, a Black 18-yearold, by a white of­fi­cer in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri.

Mathew­son re­called propos­ing a bud­get amend­ment to buy the equip­ment in early 2017 and hit­ting re­sis­tance from the mayor, po­lice chief and other coun­cil mem­bers, who ar­gued that would be un­wise with­out clear state reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing their use.

By then, Kenosha had al­ready fallen be­hind most other mid­sized po­lice de­part­ments na­tion­wide that were mov­ing for­ward with body­cam pro­grams. By 2016, 56% of de­part­ments with be­tween 100 and 250 of­fi­cers had ac­quired them, and most had some of­fi­cers wear­ing them, ac­cord­ing to a 2018 U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice study. Their use is be­lieved to have in­creased sub­stan­tially since then, although fund­ing chal­lenges re­main.

In­stead of pro­vid­ing the money im­me­di­ately, Kenosha’s coun­cil passed a unan­i­mous res­o­lu­tion in March 2017 rec­om­mend­ing their use, list­ing their nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits and not­ing that the po­lice chief, the district at­tor­ney and the mayor were in fa­vor.

But the res­o­lu­tion said their adop­tion in Kenosha hinged on the state pro­vid­ing guid­ance to de­part­ments on use, stor­age, pub­lic records and pri­vacy is­sues.

Gov. Tony Evers signed a law in Fe­bru­ary out­lin­ing body cam­era reg­u­la­tions for po­lice de­part­ments. The law re­quires footage to be re­tained for 120 days at min­i­mum — longer in cer­tain cases — and says record­ings are gen­er­ally sub­ject to Wis­con­sin’s open records law.

Kenosha ini­tially planned to buy the cam­eras this year, but fund­ing short­falls and tech­no­log­i­cal con­cerns prompted the city to push that back to 2022, said Rocco LaMac­chia, chair­man of the coun­cil’s pub­lic safety com­mit­tee.

“We have moved it back so many times,” he said. “I got a feel­ing this is go­ing to move up on the ladder re­ally fast be­cause of what’s go­ing on around the United States right now. Body cam­eras are a ne­ces­sity. There’s no doubt about it.”

Of the Blake shoot­ing, he said, “The body cam­era footage on this one would have told right from wrong right away.”

MORRY GASH/AP

Po­lice in riot gear out­side the Kenosha County Court­house on Mon­day.

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