There are ways to address concerns without closing blinds on records.
LET'S REMEMBER: The nationwide push for police body cameras originated because bad - sometimes fatal - behavior by a few officers was captured on camera and broadcast across America.
Let's also remember that such behavior is rare. America's brave law enforcement officers should not be broadly tarnished by the misdeeds of the few.
Nevertheless, body cameras serve the public interest and often the officer's interest by providing the means to independently verify what took place at a given scene. When a police officer has performed poorly or illegally the camera records it. And when a police officer whose actions are being questioned performed within the law and applicable policies, the camera records and proves that, too.
THERE IS A MOVE in the Wisconsin Legislature to restrict access under the Public Records Law to footage from police body cameras. Advocates say the effort is intended to protect the privacy of people captured by video and to standardize police policies and procedures statewide. Supposedly, captured video involving deaths, injuries, seaches and arrests still could be public. Otherwise, video could be withheld.
We don't trust that. Any of it.
Here's our experience: Open a loophole that allows government to bury information and it will be used vigorously.
That's not to say individual privacy doesn't matter. Or that standardization is necessarily a bad thing.
But the records law already allows custodians to consider a balancing test to determine if the public's interest in disclosure is outweighed by other considerations, or vice versa, when it comes to handling information. And the records law permits redaction when portions of a record rightly should remain confidential, while the rest of the record ought to be disclosed. With video, presumably, that's called editing.
THE LEGISLATIVE MAJORITY in Wisconsin has shown its colors over and over. Given half an opportunity the majority would scrap the public's right to know many things. Citizens have ample reason not to trust these people on matters of transparency.
As far as the public is concerned, the main reason for body cams is accountability.
The next best reason, for officers, is to prove they acted appropriately when proof is required.
Both are best accomplished by keeping the transparency door open, while applying balancing tests already existing within the Public Records Law when the content requires discretion.