Police officer body cameras: How are they used in Oshkosh and at UWO?

Andrew Hansen, Staff Writer

Courtesy of April Lee | The Black Lives Matter protests that sprouted up all over the country, including the one pictured above on UW Oshkosh’s campus, came in the wake of extreme police violence, most notably in the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In Oshkosh, the Oshkosh Police Department officers have used body-worn cameras (BWC) for nearly five years. UW Oshkosh Police do not currently have BWC or dash cameras.

New statewide data on the use of body and dashboard cameras in Wisconsin shows that 380 agencies, including the Oshkosh Police Department, use at least one form of camera.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) released statewide data from 434 responding law enforcement agencies on the use of body-worn cameras (BWC) and dashboard cameras in January. The data was collected by the DOJ Bureau of Justice and Analysis in November 2020.

Oshkosh Police Department Crime Prevention Officer Kate Mann said that the agency has had BWC for approximately five years.

“Every patrol officer and school resource officer has a body-worn camera,” said Mann. “Beginning in April, the Criminal Investigation Division and patrol supervisors will also be getting body-worn cameras.”

An officer equipped with a BWC can either press a record button on the BWC or the recording will automatically start when the emergency lights on the patrol squad are activated. The recorded footage is then uploaded and saved on a secure server.

The Oshkosh Police Department currently uses the Axon Flex 2 Camera, which can cost from $449 to $649, not including storage. The Oshkosh PD currently employs 100 police officers, according to its website.

In addition to the initial cost of the camera, police departments that wish to employ BWC must hire staff to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests, maintenance staff and pay video storage fees.

Of the 54 agencies that stated in the DOJ study that they do not have any form of recording device, 87% cited the primary reason as cost.

“It’s not a cheap endeavor to make happen and it’s not necessarily even just the cost of the cameras; it’s the cost of the personnel to manage it,” said UWO Captain of Police Chris Tarmann. “Storage is an expensive piece for those devices.”

According to the DOJ data, 65% of agencies that do not use either BWC nor dashboard cameras have an agency operating budget of less than $1 million.

While alternatives to dashboard and BWC do exist, Tarmann says they are not ideal.

“There are cameras around campus that we obviously know where they are so we’ll try and position somebody in front of or near one of those,” said Tarmann. But that’s complicated because cameras aren’t located everywhere.

Tarmann says the agency is currently working on a proposal to implement the devices in the hopes of receiving the necessary funding.

“I think body cameras are great, but it’s just one of those things where there’s probably a percentage of agencies who can afford them and there’s a percentage of agencies that would have to sacrifice something or find funding to make it happen,” said Tarmann. “And I feel like we’ve been in that category for a while now.”