MILWAUKEE (AP) — All Milwaukee police officers on the street would be wearing body cameras by the end of 2016 under a proposal announced Sunday by Mayor Tom Barrett.
The proposal, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1JqBjAX ), comes after tense episodes between police and Milwaukee's African-American community and fatal shootings by police in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; and North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked discussion nationwide about race and policing. Last year, 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer in a downtown park.
According to Barrett's preliminary budget, body cameras for 1,200 Milwaukee street officers — including storage of video information — would cost $880,000 in 2016 and about $1 million a year beginning in 2017.
The estimated cost is about what it would cost to add 12 officers to the department's ranks of 1,880 sworn officers, Barrett told the newspaper.
"The question is: Is it worth 12 officers?" the mayor asked. "That's a legitimate public policy debate."
He added: "I embrace it wholeheartedly, both from a fiscal standpoint and from a policy standpoint."
Both Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, Mike Crivello, support the initiative.
"If that's OK with (citizens), it's sure OK with us because, from the average officer's point of view, it's going to overwhelmingly put in context what they're dealing with, what they try to do and what actually happens," Flynn said at Marquette University last week.
"We're looking forward to getting them," he said.
Appearing with the mayor on Sunday, Flynn said Milwaukee police officers will have discretion to turn off the cameras for certain sensitive calls as part of a new department policy on use of the devices.
"This is new territory for American citizens as well as for police departments, and balancing a reasonable expectation of privacy when you summon the police department to deal with a family crisis has to be balanced with our need to be accountable and transparent," Flynn said.
Crivello said there is "no doubt" the cameras "will absolutely depict the professionalism that our officers display on a daily basis."
If Barrett's proposal is approved, Milwaukee would join a growing number of police departments nationwide that are considering the use of body cameras or already outfitting some officers.
Attorney Robin Shellow represents some of the more than 60 people who have filed civil rights lawsuits against the City of Milwaukee and the Police Department alleging improper strip and cavity searches. While Shellow said she supports body cameras for police, she thinks more needs to be done.
"Yes, I believe in body cameras, but more importantly I think we should have police officers with college educations," Shellow said. "I think that would do a lot more to reduce unconstitutional interactions."
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com