Madison, Wis., officials push for surveillance cam policy

More and more, big brother is watching you in the city of Madison.

Despite the addition of hundreds of security cameras from State Street to Metro Transit buses, some city agencies still do not have a formal policy guiding their use.

The cameras are used in many ways - capturing criminal behavior Downtown, documenting troublemakers on buses or at bus transfer stations, monitoring traffic or protecting public facilities such as Overture Center.

To ensure cameras are used legally and for legitimate purposes, Alds. Brenda Konkel and Marsha Rummel have proposed that all agencies file policies with the city clerk's office by Sept. 15.

"Hopefully, all is good," Konkel said. "But it's important the public has this information and we have some sort of consistency around the city as we use these cameras.

"This is a constitutional issue as well," she said. "I want to make sure the city is in compliance with the rules."

Video surveillance can violate the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment but is legal if there's no reasonable expectation of privacy.

The move by Konkel and Rummel follows an effort in 2003-04 to require policies that was never completed. At the time, a special committee suggested guidelines and recommended agencies develop written polices.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz authorized the committee to produce a memorandum requiring agencies to take actions, but the memorandum was never issued and policies weren't filed with the city clerk.

"It sort of slipped through the cracks," Konkel said.

Since then, the Police Department, Metro Transit and other agencies have deployed hundreds of cameras, but few agencies have developed or filed policies.

In 2003, the police didn't use cameras in stations, had only a limited number of a cameras in squad cars and had no policy on their use, a new City Council staff report says.

Now, police have eight cameras on State Street, two mobile cameras for special events, cameras in all marked cars and some in unmarked vehicles, state-required cameras for interrogations and a policy for using all of them, the report says.

The cameras "are a very effective tool," Central District Police Capt. Mary Schauf said.

The department, Schauf said, is finding new ways to use the technology, such as the ability to let a State Street neighborhood officer monitor a camera by computer, identify violations and follow up with enforcement.

Schauf said she supports council efforts to establish formal policies to ensure citizens are comfortable with camera use.

Metro, which had just four fixed cameras and two mobile ones in 2003, now has 33 fixed cameras and 168 mobiles with plans for more, the report says. The bus system also has adopted a policy.

By 2010, cameras will be installed on all 200 buses and 20 paratransit vehicles, General Manager Chuck Kamp said.

"They really do work," he said, saying the public is becoming more aware and supportive of their use.

But many agencies including Housing Operations, Overture Center, the Parks Division, Revenue, Streets and the Water Utility - the latter going from zero to 65 cameras at remote sites in five years - use cameras without formal policies, the report says.

The Streets Division has long used security cameras at various sites and, since 2003, has added 26 mobile cameras on garbage and recycling trucks to view traffic and document illegal dumping.

Konkel said letting employees and the public know about cameras builds confidence and enhances their deterrent value.

Under Konkel and Rummel's proposal, all agencies must file a policy within 30 days of using video surveillance.

The policies should, among other things, include the objective and scope of use, camera placement and how people are notified.