Bill would limit what body cam footage the public can access

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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) -- A public hearing in Madison Thursday brought out arguments on either side of police body cam footage and who should be able to see it. The discussion centered around a bill that would limit public access to the video taken on body cam that will be voted on next month.

Right now, anyone can file an open records request to obtain copies of police body cam footage. According to the Green Bay police chief, that lack of victim privacy—along with the high price tag—are reasons he won't be buying them for his department anytime soon.

“Do you want your house in your most private, personal moments when you're a crime victim or when you have an injury to be captured on video tape and be made available or stored on a server that maybe we're not sure it's a secure server for the next seven years?” Chief Andrew Smith told Action 2 News Thursday.

His sentiments are echoed by Assembly Bill 351 which, if passed, would withhold most footage unless it involves injuries, deaths, arrests and searches. Police would also be required to get permission from any victims, witnesses or property owners before releasing video taken where there's a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Opponents say this bill serves as a way to limit public access and decrease police transparency. "There is a legitimate interest in what happened in that room. There could be conflicting accounts and accusations, officers being accused of things,” testified Bill Lueders of the Freedom of Information Council before the committee.

“Why can't we release this video? Well, we can't because the law says we gotta reach everyone. You gotta send them a letter. They gotta respond. They have to agree to the release or it can't go. That's just too much,” Lueders said.

The committee heard testimony from several law enforcement officers who are in favor of the bill. As for Chief Smith, even if the bill passes, he says it’s not enough to make him want to invest in the body cams, although it could be a step in the right direction.

The committee votes on the bill November 2nd.

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