Kenosha County faces resolution on law enforcement body cams
June 24, 2020
The Kenosha County Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution requiring area law enforcement officers wear body cameras beginning July 16. Advocates of the resolution say it will be a step forward both for law enforcement and the general public of Kenosha County.
According to Erin Decker, one of resolution’s sponsors and member of the board of supervisors, the resolution proposes four changes. It mandates the use of body-worn cameras, as well as establishing policies on their use, and funding to pay for them. It also protects potential whistleblowers who may report misconduct by those within the sheriff’s department. The resolution also establishes an independent review of complaints against the department, as well as requiring the department to sell or donate military-style vehicles that haven’t been used for two or more years.
Decker sponsored the resolution in part to encourage reform in Kenosha County. “I was tired of other elected officials giving lip service to the problem but not really changing the areas that need reform,” she said. “Every time there are protests, politicians form a committee, that committee meets, then after the news stories die down, the committee releases a document that does no real change… This resolution addresses real problems and makes changes to solve the problem.”
This is not the first such resolution to be presented to the board of supervisors. In 2015, then-alderperson Kevin Mathewson, along with four of his colleagues, presented a resolution calling for Kenosha law enforcement to wear body cameras. It passed unanimously. The mayor of Kenosha then included funds for the purchase of body cameras in the city budget. So why has nothing happened since?
According to Mathewson, the current mayor, John Antaramian, has moved the money into future budgets several times. “Now it’s out to 2022,” he said.
Other roadblocks to the resolution included a state law that did not address some of the privacy and public access issues surrounding law enforcement’s use of the cameras. For instance, Mathewson said, there would be no need for the public to access camera footage if no crime or arrest came from a response to a 9-1-1 call. The state legislature did address this issue last year.
Both Mathewson and Decker say that the resolution will be good for both law enforcement and citizens.
“I want to protect the deputies that are on patrol,” Decker explained. “Body cameras are a great tool to assist in reconstructing what happened during a stop. Protecting good deputies who want to report bad deputies is common sense. So is having an impartial board reviewing complaints about deputies.”
Mathewson, who is no longer an alderperson but is a private investigator for criminal defense attorneys, says body cameras make sense. “I am a big proponent of police accountability,” he said. “Body-worn cameras don’t lie or make mistakes. They help prove guilt, and they help exonerate innocent defendants. They also lower violence against officers. They also deter false complaints. They are a win/win for the community.”
Despite the advantages both Decker and Mathewson see in mandating body cameras, they are concerned about roadblocks from within the board of supervisors. Conservative supervisor Decker worries that liberal supervisors will not back the resolution because of different political aims. “It is highly likely that this resolution will get voted down,” she explained. Decker believes another resolution, promoted by the county executive and Supervisor Laura Belsky, does nothing to effect real change. “(It) will be forgotten when the headlines stop.”
Despite the 2015 resolution having passed unanimously, Mathewson isn’t sure the current resolution will. “I’m concerned this might become a partisan issue,” he said. He went on to point to national surveys that indicate 90 percent of U.S. citizens want law enforcement to wear body cameras. “It’s a bipartisan issue.”