Wisconsin bodycam video cost could increase with new legislation

MILWAUKEE - Police departments across Wisconsin said they are being inundated with requests for body-worn camera video, and legislation could make getting that video a lot more expensive.

Before police release a video, they have to review it for sensitive information. They're not allowed to charge for the time it takes to blur things out or add black squares or pixelation, but that could change.

"There’s a cost," said State Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield).

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When it comes to transparency in law enforcement, body-worn cameras give the public a front row seat. Spiros said demand for that video is overwhelming police departments with "a costly administrative burden."

"Just an influx of requests for this information," said Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt, who is president of the Badger State Sheriffs' Association. "I’ve had to add, this year in 2024, an $80,000 a year position, strictly for redacting and releasing of these videos."

Before police can release a video, they have to redact sensitive information – like the faces of juveniles or crime victims – by blacking out or pixelating the video or silencing sensitive audio.

"For every hour of video, on average, it takes an hour-and-a-half to go through and redact it," Schmidt said.

A pair of bills in Madison would allow police to charge a fee for the time spent making those redactions, but open records lawyer Tom Kamenick said requesters don't want redactions in the first place.

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"It’s unfair to ask the requester to pay for work to be done, so that they get less than the full amount of records," said Kamenick.

Kamenick said redaction charges could discourage requests. In a position statement filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union said those charges could limit or deny access for those who can't afford it.

"I’m not going to disagree with the premise that more costs will discourage record requests, but that’s not our goal," said Schmidt.

<div>Wisconsin legislation relating to costs for body-worn camera video</div>
Wisconsin legislation relating to costs for body-worn camera video

Schmidt said they do want to limit requests from "Youtubers" who profit by posting things like police chases – requests the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association calls "frivolous."

"If something isn’t done, if we can’t find some way to make this happen, I predict there will be less body cameras on the streets in the future," said Schmidt.

The legislation was just introduced before Christmas, and it has already passed the Wisconsin Senate. An Assembly committee is expected to vote next week, though FOX6 is told an amendment may be coming.

More to know

Do these bills say anything about how much police can charge for making redactions?

No, but it has to be the actual cost of redaction. If they use staff time to calculate that, imagine the staff member makes $50 per hour in salary and benefits. If it takes 10 hours to review and redact all of the video from one incident, that's potentially a $500 fee. The costs could add up quickly.

If this passes, would Gov. Tony Evers sign it?

The governor's office said it is still reviewing the legislation and waiting to see any additional amendments before making a final decision.