Death of George Floyd reignites call for Madison police to get body cameras

Body camera footage from Minneapolis Park Police, moments before George Floyd died under an officer's knee.
Body camera footage from Minneapolis Park Police, moments before George Floyd died under an officer's knee.(NBC15)
Published: Jun. 5, 2020 at 9:51 PM CDT
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The death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis officer is raising questions of police conduct and renewing a call to equip Madison police with body cameras.

“The body cameras were the thing that really told us the truth about what happened to Mr. Floyd,” Ruben Anthony, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, said. “If we didn’t have the body cameras, we would’ve had to go with the word of those officers.”

Anthony, and more than 4,500 people, have supported a

to bring body cameras to every operational Madison police officer.

MPD chief Vic Wahl told NBC15 he also supports this move, saying, “A body camera can give us a pretty unbiased, objective review of what happened.”

But Wahl said he recognizes that cost is a barrier. Currently, cameras at MPD are limited to squad cars and some members of the SWAT team.

“It’s not the only part of addressing issues,” he said, describing the significance of body cameras during a time when conversations about police brutality and racial justice are at the nation’s forefront. “It’s a whole host of other things departments need to be doing in terms of training, hiring, selection and culture that are all important. Body cameras alone aren’t going to overcome deficiencies in those areas. But, I think, if we’re trying to have a holistic, broad-based response and be as good as we can, I think that [body camera] is one piece of it.”

To expand this form of surveillance, MPD needs the approval from the Common Council.

Alder Paul Skidmore from the city’s 9th district said he has supported body cameras for the department for several years but has been outweighed each time. This time, Skidmore says he anticipates the city’s budget will be a significant hurdle.

“We’re about $30 million in a hole right away,” Skidmore said. “We’re going to have to re-prioritize our budget. The question is to whether body cameras are needed or effective. If we establish that fact, then we can do what we need to do to balance the budget and work it in. It’s a matter of priorities.”

Skidmore said he will work with Chief Wahl in the coming weeks on a pilot program proposal, explaining that the initial investment for the pilot would run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

He said he’s unsure about an estimate for a full-scale plan. But Wahl said that such plans require “proper support and infrastructure,” including staff dedicated to camera functions.

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