If you are stopped and approached by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Police Department, you are probably being recorded.
Divergent opinions have lingered around campus about body cameras coming to campus and the impact on safety as the cameras will be among us. UWMPD now has 33 body worn cameras arranged for officers since the end of October 2017.
Students, faculty, and the campus community are affected by this change, and body cameras have been a hotly contested topic locally and nationally in recent months overall, but not many have showed much interest at UWM. No one showed at the feedback session hosted by the UWM Police Chief Joe LeMire on Oct. 4. Although no one showed, some students told Media Milwaukee that they felt uninformed about the event. Despite receiving emails from UWMPD, many still feel as if the event went unnoticed.
The cameras provided for the university are from Axon. The company has more than 200,000 cameras used at 6,000 agencies worldwide. They are to be activated immediately when responding to calls. Informal conversations or casual encounters with the community will not be recorded.
Several students told Media Milwaukee that they feel the campus will see more transparency between police and community engagement as a result of body cameras. The main fear is the privacy and the reliability of the cameras.
“We make sure that each officer knows what they are doing and how to properly use the cameras. It’s in our best interest to make the community feel safe. We’ve got a strong relationship with community already,” LeMire said. “The person being recorded is able to receive a copy but that specific copy might not be available right away of course. In order to obtain a copy, you need to contact the UWM’s Public Records Custodian.”
The cameras are there for the safety of the community but also for the officers., authorities say. Body cameras help gather important evidence. Instead of going strictly off people’s memories, the videos can assist with evidence. The body cameras are retrieved at the beginning of every shift, and an officer must manually turn them on and off. After the cameras are returned to the department, officers will upload the data to a cloud-based service to store the files, according to LeMire.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think transparency is good. I feel officers shouldn’t have the option to turn them off because situations are unpredictable. When something happens to either the officer or citizen their first instinct isn’t going to be, ‘Let me check my body camera’. Keeping it on all the time is safest for everybody. The only thing I’m worried about is if me or the people I deem necessary have access to the raw footage. I’m not too concerned about privacy issues. I just want to be safe,” said UWM senior Adriana Ramirez.
The Shorewood and Milwaukee Police Department as well as UW-LaCrosse, UW-Whitewater, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison have all been using body cameras for quite some time. Dash cameras for UWMPD have been around the department since early 2000’s. Since the uproar about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, M.O., the demand for many police departments to implement this change has been a huge debate since 2014. UWM Police Chief LeMire says, “We are looking for an easier way for the community to get ahead and work together.”
Privacy has been the main discussion regarding situations like rape, abuse, or other personal complaints that will most likely be on film.
UWM student, Morgan Huckstorf said, “I think they are really important to have especially with everything that’s going on right now. You can always tell someone a story about what happened or what you thought happened. But if you actually have a video recording of what did happen it’s really important to show the truth and the right and wrong of a story.”
According to the courts, an individual has no expectation of privacy in a public place, including their private property. Restrooms, locker rooms, and medical patient care areas will not be recorded unless the location of the complaint leads them there, according to the UWM Police Department.
“Me personally, I think it’s an improvement,” UWM senior Tory Tyler said, “That means they’ll be 100 percent accountable for whatever actions that they do behind that camera and there’s no getting away with that.”