I’ve been sitting on this since last Friday. Partially because it is so unbelievable, but also because I was just swamped with things to blog – there is so much more going on that I also have blog materials for – but this one is just amazing. Just when you need one of those damn police video cameras . . . it wasn’t working?
First of all, I’m no big fan of surveillance cameras in public spaces. Never have been. Voted against them consistently. Served on a committee that worked on making departments have policies about the use of cameras on file with the clerk and to require signage for people where they are using video cameras. I’m pretty sure that many of those policies are not being followed. Just like the state statute that requires the police and parks (and all public employees) folks to keep property for 90 days when they find it on public land.
So, you can imagine I was a little gleeful when we finally had an opportunity to use those cameras for public good. For surveillance on the police department. Because the stories about the property found shifted and changed as more facts came out, I wanted to see the video of throwing the items “in a truck”, because it seemed to be being mischaraterized as a flatbed truck instead of a garbage truck that crushed the items. And there was claims that no one was by the property, but I heard that the woman watching the items jumped on the truck as they were doing it trying to stop them. And they said it was garbage, but it was clearly not, some of the sleeping bags were only about a week old. So, I thought . . . I can see for myself! They have video cameras all over State St. They should have video and we can see who is right.
Wrong. Of course. And I have no idea why I’m surprised . . . I did an open records request and here is the response.
October 19, 2012
Dear Ms. Konkel:
I am writing in response to your two public records requests of the Madison Police Department. You seek the release of records related to:
1. “This is a request for a copy of any video or surveillance video taken in the area of Veterans Plaza and the Veterans Museum on Wednesday, October 10th between the hours of 8 am and noon that shows Officer Jeff Pharo, the removal of property or “trash” from the area or any other video showing city staff contacting people in the area about the items there or removing items from the area on that date.”
2. “Please send me a list of any personal property found on city property by city employees (please indicate the staff, department, date and location) between the dates of October 1, 2011 and October 12, 2012 that was subject to Wis. Stat 170.105 and a copy of the required notices as well as the location that the notices were posted. Please indicate if that property was recovered and how it was disposed of if it wasn’t recovered by the owner.”
Under the Wisconsin Public Records Laws, records custodians must carefully weigh the competing public interests involved when deciding to release any record in their possession. Custodians begin with a presumption of complete public access to such records. However, custodians must consider whether inspection of the record could result in harm to the public interest that would outweigh the benefits of such inspection. When such harm substantially outweighs the benefits of public inspection, such records or portions thereof, must remain confidential.
In response to item #1, as I checked for these records, I was informed that the video requested was not available. We do not have a camera that captures a view of the Veteran’s Museum. On 10/10/12, the camera in the area of Mifflin/State/Carroll, was pointed toward the park between Teddy Wedgers and the Historical Museum. When reviewing the video from this camera on this date, it was discovered that there is no recording from 04:55:18AM through 12:55:47PM. I contacted the City’s Information Technology section to verify that no data exists during that time period. This was confirmed. I was informed by City IT staffer Lisa Larson “This camera is on a recording server which we’ve been having issues with and have an open call with the vendor about. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize this when I went looking for the video. But this would explain the missing video. Good news is we’re moving to a new backend system in the next few weeks and hopefully we won’t have these type of issues with the new system.”
Therefore, I am unable to provide you with the responsive video records within your records request. It does not exist. I have requested that the video for the entire day of Oct 10, 2012 be archived in the event you would like to come view what recordings we do have for that day.
In response to item #2, based on our conversation today, I have made a request to MPD Property Room Supervisor Mark Packard to compile the information you have requested with the date parameters of October 1, 2012 through October 12, 2012. Mr. Packard is at training both this week and next and is trying to pull this information for you as time permits. He hopes to get me this information by Monday October 29th. I will then review the information for public release purposes and contact you as soon as possible. Thank you for modifying your original request to these new dates.
Sue Williams, Captain of Police
More on the second piece of the request later . . . meanwhile, do you really believe they didn’t have video? And how could we know?
Cc Roger Allen, OCA
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