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80% of MPD squad car cameras have experienced “unacceptable failure”

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MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee city leaders are doing what they can after learning most of the video recorders in Milwaukee police squad cars are failing. 

Milwaukee police squad car cameras are an important tool -- and they've been the focus of two high-profile cases recently. The first was the case of the death of 22-year-old Derek Williams while in police custody, and the second was the case of former MPD Officer Richard Schoen, seen punching a female suspect while she was handcuffed in the backseat of a squad car.

In the Williams case, dashcam video showing Williams struggling to breathe in the backseat of a squad car led to public outcry, and an inquest into Williams' death.

In the Schoen case, the dashcam video led Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn to fire Schoen. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission then made the decision to re-instate Schoen, following a 60-day suspension. Then, following public outcry, the FPC reversed their decision and permanently fired Schoen.

Now, city leaders have learned many of these recording devices used to capture critical images are failing.

"You don't want to see any failure. You want to have a perfect, 100% system. I think these cameras are extremely important, but the reality is, things break," Alderman Michael Murphy said.

Murphy says the Milwaukee City Council will likely approve spending up to $900,000 to replace digital video recorders in Milwaukee police squad cars. 

Records show of the 169 vehicles with recorders, 136, or 80% have experienced unacceptable rates of failure. Problems trouble-shooting with vendors and difficulty getting replacement parts are some of the issues -- however, it is unclear how badly video was impacted or what the specific term "failure rate" means.

Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin says he's concerned about what video might be gone because of the failure. He says he is unaware whether any images of alleged brutality was lost, but maintains his focus is on making sure the problem is corrected as soon as possible.

"I care more about getting it right so we can protect the civil liberties and civil rights of all Milwaukee residents," Ahmuty said.

In a statement, the Milwaukee Police Department said: "While it is not unusual for the City to utilize outdated equipment due to fiscal constraints, (city leaders) agreed replacing these units is the most expeditious and efficient way to ensure video systems are as up-to-date and reliable as possible."

It is expected the City Council will approve the funding on Tuesday, December 18th -- the same day the replacement units can be purchased.