Unblinking camera can serve us all

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Police body-camera use will be a good thing for Beloit, and for officers.

IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE there could be some trepidation among citizens if Beloit Police officers inside schools don body cameras.

What images might be captured of young people, say, at the high school? And what will be done with those images?

Some are concerned the body cameras could violate privacy rights, and perhaps stigmatize kids long before they reach adulthood. Some, in fact, are not even comfortable with having police officers in schools at all, fearing the practice runs the risk of criminalizing what may just amount to youthful misbehaviors.

Such concerns deserve attention, because this is about kids. In our view, though, the concern shouldn't so much be whether cameras are present or not, but making sure the program is done right.

POLICE BODY CAMERAS can work for everybody, and can give advantages both to police officers and to young people.

Think about it. If a police officer overreacts or mistreats a juvenile in the school setting, the camera captures the image and provides proof. That has the potential to clear a kid who otherwise might face severe disciplinary, or even legal, repercussions.

At the same time, if a juvenile is acting out in violent or disturbed ways, the camera will capture that, too. In such a case, the image may protect the police officer from later accusations over how a violent student was restrained.

Famous TV journalist Dan Rather wrote a book with the title, "The Camera Never Blinks." To us, that concept applies just as well in school-setting situations. The camera images will show what actually happened, rather than what anyone may claim happened.

Truth matters. This should be about behaviors, not adult arguments, and the best way to document behaviors is to have accurate images.

ON THE ISSUE of privacy, we believe that's a legitimate concern that can be adequately managed by local authorities.

The state legislature is trying to bigfoot its way into the middle of such concerns. Our advice to the meddlesome politicians is, with all due respect, butt out. Republicans used to condemn Democrats because the lefties always seemed to want to dictate terms, to the detriment of local control. There certainly can be no further doubt - Republicans are just as bad, with the righties constantly trying to drop their own mandates on local officials.

News flash: Beloit can handle its own affairs.

Under current laws, most of the time, juvenile identities are protected. Releasing any juvenile information - be it printed material or images - is governed by sound restrictions, and by provisions of the Public Records Law which require balancing individual concerns with the public's right to know. Redaction is an option to protect identities when other matters contained in a given record should be released to the public.

That works. It allows officials closest to a given matter to consider public interest while exercising proper caution to protect kids. In Madison, the legislators always think they know best. They don't. We're not stupid here in Beloit.

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