November 26, 2014

HPD has no plans to purchase body cameras

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The August police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has spurred debate across the country, including locally, about whether or not police should be equipped with body cameras.
The Ferguson officer who shot the unarmed teen was not wearing such a camera, leaving many to ask the question: If he had been, would the aftermath of that situation unfolded in the same way?
Highland Police Chief Terry Bell said body cameras could increase police accountability and transparency while also preventing and/or de-escalating confrontational situations between police and the public. The devices could also protect officers if false accusations of abuse or misconduct are made against them.
Bell said he has seen dashboard cameras “save” a number of police officers’ careers more than it has ever hurt them during his 26-year law enforcement career.
He recalled a DUI arrest several years ago in Collinsville, where a dashboard camera video “saved” an officer. In that case, the suspect, who was facing his fourth DUI arrest and jail time, accused a Collinsville police officer of soliciting a bribe while making a traffic stop, Bell said.
Bell later watched the dashboard video with the suspect and arresting officer.
“The stop was textbook perfect,” Bell said.
After watching the video, the suspect looked up at Bell and said: “I must have had a brain tumor.”
HPD currently has dashboard cameras in its patrol cars, which officers use to record their traffic stops. Some officers even use the dashboard camera videos to supplement and write their reports, Bell said.
But HPD is taking a wait-and-see approach before it purchases body cameras for its officers.
“Until the legislation is finalized and is put down in dry ink, I am not going to do anything,” Bell said. “I’m not going to waste my money.”
In September, state Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, introduced a measure that would bring in funds to provide officers with both body and dashboard cameras. The proposal would impose a new fee on traffic violations and guilty pleas involving criminal offenses in order to pay for the equipment, but the legislation has yet to go anywhere.
An Illinois Supreme Court Ruling earlier this year that struck down the state’s eavesdropping law, which prohibited the audio recording of any person in the state without their consent — even in a public setting — has also created another legislative twist the General Assembly will need to consider.
Bell believes the General Assembly will ultimately require all police officers to wear body cameras.
But Bell expects the state will impose restrictions on body cameras once police get something on tape legislators don’t want to see.
“That seems inevitable to me,” Bell said. “We value our privacy too much.”
While the pros of body cameras are pretty clear, there are also concerns of logistics.
Bell questioned how long law enforcement agencies should retain camera footage.
“We now store our (dash camera) footage for six months,” Bell said.
But there is no standard. The Illinois State Police, for instance, currently stores its footage for only 90 days.
And when should such video should be released to the public?
“And then who has access to it?” Bell asked. “Does the media and public get to have access to every interaction?”
Bell also had questions on when body cameras would need to be activated and deactivated and where all of the data would be stored.
All of these things need to be addressed by the General Assembly, Bell said.
Then there’s the cost. Body cameras run between $400 and $600 apiece — just for the camera.
But the bigger expense might be the additional computer hardware needed to store the videos, Bell said.
Bell hopes the state will offset body cameras expenses with grants.
“Just look at our cost, and we’re not that big of a department,” he said.
Bell estimated it will cost Highland Police alone about $10,000 just to buy about 20 body cameras.
“If the state makes it mandatory for all police officers to have body cameras and it becomes an unfunded liability, this will be a difficult proposition for some departments to enact,” he said.

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The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired.
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