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Mount Pleasant police proposing new bodycams following Tyrese West decision

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MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. (CBS 58)-- Mount Pleasant police are asking for $100,000 in next year’s budget to upgrade their body camera system. MPPD was the first in Racine County to have body cameras. Their system is almost ten years old, and officers have to manually turn on their body cameras to start recording.

Just last month, no charges were filed against a Mount Pleasant officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Tyrese West during a chase. Sergeant Eric Giese had a body camera, but didn’t turn it on. Giese told investigators that he was not able to manually turn on his body camera because he was chasing West on foot and was talking to dispatch through his radio at the same time.

With the new system, officers do not have to manually turn on their body cameras, because it will be synced with squad cameras. Both will automatically start recording if squad lights are turned on or if the car is going at least 75 miles per hour.

”Now if you suddenly need to exit the vehicle to engage or to interact with somebody, the camera is on, it takes no thought on the officer’s part, it’s automatic,” said Chief Matt Soens with Mount Pleasant Police Department.

An investigation into the Tyrese West shooting showed bodycam video moments after he was shot, but not of the shooting itself.  Mount Pleasant police officers are encouraged to use their body cameras, but it’s not mandatory.

West’s family criticized the policy and accused the department of not being transparent.

“In that case, if those squad lights were turned on, the squad video would activate, and that automatically activates the body camera,” Chief Soens says.

Chief Soens says the West case has inspired police to upgrade the body cameras and its policies, but it’s not the only reason why they’re doing it.  

”Criticism, I would say yes, it did play a part,” said Chief Soens. “However, our body camera policy and our body cameras in general, we were looking at upgrading all of these because they were outdated.”

The Mount Pleasant Village Board had concerns over cost and storage, but agrees it’s a necessary change.

“It’s of great community interest, and I don’t think it will have any pushback from the village board,” said Village President Dave Degroot.

Chief Soens says during high stress situations, sometimes it’s challenging for police to think about turning on their body cameras.

”The last thing we want is for them to have to think about manually operating the camera, because that could be the valuable second they need to focus on the threat that’s coming at them at that time,” adds Soens.  

If approved, the new system would provide 60 updated body cameras for MPPD. The earliest it would be ordered is January.

Chief Soens says like any piece of technology, things may malfunction. He says these new body cameras won’t be a cure-all, but it will be a huge improvement from what they have. 

Mount Pleasant police isn’t the first to request automatic recording on their body cameras. Last Thursday the Racine County Sheriff’s Office announced they’re asking the county board to approve sensors for deputy holsters so body cameras will begin recording as soon as a gun is drawn.

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