Village Won’t Budget Body Cams for 2021

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Kevin Murphy

CROSS PLAINS–There will be no money in next year’s Village of Cross Plains budget for police body cameras.

The body camera question came up unexpectedly Monday as the village board neared completing work on the 2021 budget. 

Police Chief Tony Ruesga said more study is needed before any funds should be allocated.

“I know the body camera issue has come to the forefront and is highly talked about in today’s world and I’m interested in working on it,” he told the board.

A system compatible with the police department’s other communication equipment is currently being updated by the manufacturer and will need a few months to “get the bugs out,” Ruesga said.

“It will come with a price and (take) some time, and we’ll need to have training on it and the proper policies in place, which includes Open Records (requests),” he said.

The chief also said he wants to see what grants are available that could help the village with the cost of body camera and supportive equipment.

Board President Jay Lengfeld, who worked in law enforcement for 38 years, had a dimmer view on the benefits of body cameras.

“I can tell you there’s a lot of research going the other way,” he told the board.

Lengfeld suggested holding off on purchasing body cameras until the pros and cons are discussed and the public has weighed in on the issues. There may be some public resistance to the idea when privacy matters are disclosed, he said.

As a law enforcement officer, Lengfeld said he was all for body cameras but as a citizen/resident he’s not “100 percent” behind the idea due to privacy concerns.

“Right now, your home is the last place where you have privacy, as there’s cameras everywhere else. Allowing officers into your home, and usually not under the best circumstances, you’re being filmed and with state Open Records law, anyone can ask for that videotape,” Lengfeld said in an interview Tuesday.

State law requires police to blur the faces of juveniles when video is released to the public but that could take hours of department time plus the cost of computer memory to store video from the village’s six sworn officers.

“Those costs far exceed the price of the cameras,” he said.

The cost to acquire body cameras hasn’t been developed and probably won’t be until the community has had a chance to weigh in on the idea, Lengfeld said.

Lengfeld was surprised to learn the department doesn’t have Tasers and other non-lethal tools, including shotguns that shoot beanbags that could be used instead of bullets.

Ruesga said wants that equipment available as police departments around the county look at implementing de-escalation tactics in public confrontations.

“Body cams will probably be right at the top (of the list) for transparency and having the documentation available is very, very important,” he said.

Work on the 2021 operating is about 98 percent completed, said Lengfeld. It was drafted with a one percent spending increase and a public hearing will be held on Oct. 26.

Village Administrator Bill Chang told the board that a ballot drop box has been installed outside Village Hall and is emptied twice daily. About 1,000 requests for absentee ballots have been received and more come in every day, he said.

The last date to register online to vote is Oct. 28, the last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Oct. 29 and must be returned to the drop box or the village clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, Chang said.

In person voting begins Oct. 20.

Lengfeld reported that 81.9 percent of the village returned census forms, which have to be postmarked by Sept. 30.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” he said, of the participation rate.

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