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Bill would allow police to charge for bodycam video going to YouTube sites

A police officer wears a body camera
Julio Cortez
A police officer wears a body camera

A bipartisan proposal in Madison that would require a payment for police footage from YouTubers or other social media stars is expected to be signed by Governor Tony Evers.

Wausau Police Chief Matthew Barnes says requests from social media channels and bloggers are bogging down his clerical staff to the point where he asked the city for more bodies to handle the work. “A call with four or five officers, four or five squads, and it s a half hour long- that can be two days worth of work for a clerical person for just one open records request,” said Barnes.

If that request comes from someone in another state who will use the footage on a YouTube channel and monetize it, local requests and issues are put to the side while that request is filled. Barnes says that’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars. “I would much rather those dollars be spent policing and making this a safer community. Not enriching YouTube channel owners. I’m very appreciative that this had bipartisan support at the state level and that the Governor is going to sign this. It will make policing much easier- I think that is in the best interest of everyone.”

State Representative Katrina Shankland, who helped amend the bill, agrees that taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to help line the pockets of social media stars like those on YouTube. “We think that not only is this reasonable, but it is beyond due time for this to happen. I’ve heard from Chiefs of Police across the state who are spending anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 of taxpayer money to fulfill YouTubers’ requests. I don’t know a single taxpayer who says ‘let’s put an extra law enforcement officer in my police department to help YouTubers make money,'” said Shankland.

Barnes says in some cases people may just be looking through police reports and call logs for keywords like “resisting arrest,” and then requesting the footage in bulk to use for their channels. “They are making money off of their channels with our content. This law, which law enforcement supports, puts those costs back on those individuals and those organizations that are monetizing that content from our police department,” he added.

The bill does not set a flat rate for the content. Instead, each department would charge an hourly rate for the footage based on the salary of the lowest-paid individual in the department who can process such a request. If the lowest-paid clerical worker makes $25 per hour plus benefits; then that’s what the department would charge per hour no matter who is processing the request. Things that need to be removed or censored from the footage include the names and faces of minors, personal medical information, and other sensitive data. Barnes says that has to be done through blurring effects on the video and muting the audio when appropriate.

“The minutes of body camera footage, that’s the bare minimum. That’s someone watching and saying ‘there are no redactions here, we can push this request out.’ The second redactions start occurring, it’ll get a little bit more expensive,” noted Barnes.

Barnes and Shankland discussed the measure during a news conference in Wausau on Monday. Shankland worked with her Republican colleague John Spiros on the bill.

The bill does provide exceptions for those working in the media or other news outlets. Local residents would also get ten free requests per year but would pay for each additional request. The footage would remain free for crime victims regardless of the number or length of requests.

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