It’s not unusual for police officers to be filmed by people with cellphones during a traffic stop nowadays, but police throughout Lake County may be wearing body cameras to monitor interactions as soon as this fall in Round Lake Park, and other departments are not far behind.
From Round Lake Park to Round Lake and Mundelien to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, municipalities and their police departments are moving ahead with body cameras.
“This is definitely the wave of the future and something that’s needed,” Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said. “Body cameras are a type of evidence and the more evidence we have in any case the better.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner last week signed legislation that lays out the rules for police body cameras in Illinois, making it only the third state in the country to establish such rules, according to an Associated Press analysis. While it does not mandate body cameras, although there was legislation floated that would have done just that, it does specify how they will be worn, when they have to be turned on and how long the recordings must be kept as evidence.
It also established a grant program funded by a $5 addition to traffic tickets to help police departments buy the body cameras.
“They are going to be involved in every case, even misdemeanors,” Nerheim said. “You’re going to see footage on every single case.”
Nerheim said his office is working with the more than 40 police departments in Lake County on uniformity. If each department operated on a different system, that could pose a problem for his office, which would handle the recordings in court.
“It’s important we are part of the process,” he said.
Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko said if everything goes as planned his department will be ready to roll out the body cameras by mid September.
“It’s logical we’re doing this,” he said, “We decided this was the way to go.”
The village has purchased 6 4RE in-car systems with panoramic HD cameras and 13 VISTA HD body-worn cameras that have adjustable lenses so officers can adjust them according to their height. The total cost was approximately $57,000, which also includes a server and needed software.
For Patrol Officer Donna O’Brien, the body camera, which uses industrial strength magnets to hold it in place, is a good thing.
“I prefer them,” she said, “It’s good to have one more form of evidence to back up the truth.”
“I also think it’s good tool for training. I can review how I walked up to a vehicle during a traffic stop or person and see how I might of done it differently,” or see something that may have put her in danger, but she didn’t realize it at the time, she said.
“It will keep me on my toes, but I always act professionally,” she said.
Filenko said the response of his officers has not been “why do we need them,” but “when are we getting them.”
“In my opinion this is going to become standard, it may even be mandatory eventually,” he said. He knew two years ago they were going to need new squad car videos and he thought of incorporating the body cameras with that new system.
“It’s still not going to replace the human eye,” he said, but in the worse-case scenario, an officer involved shooting, “the more video the better,” said Filenko, who is in charge of the Major Crime Task Force that is called in to investigate those shootings.
Round Lake Police Chief Michael Gillette said his mayor and trustees wanted to get ahead of the curve and be pro-active. “I’m proud of the board and the mayor for letting us do that,” he said of their purchase of 15 FirstVu HD cameras from Kansas-based Digital Ally, at a cost of $13,800.
“We feel it’s a good tool for the officers to put together a solid case,” he said, “and of course it would be used in allegations of misconduct. I think they are really good tools.”
Bigger departments have bigger problems with figuring out the financing, but the Waukegan Police Department is “aggressively” researching different models, according to Cmdr. Joe Florip.
“We need to see what will work best (for the 80 patrol officers and 20 patrol cars). We’re excited as an organization to get body cameras. We think it’s best for our community and the police department,” he said.
“It’s priceless when it comes to a citizen complaint. There’s nothing like pulling up a video,” he said, noting that sometimes they can do that now from dash cameras and sometimes residents see their actions in a different light.
The Lake County Chiefs Association, headed by Highland Park Chief Paul Schafer, said they are getting more inquiries from other chiefs about body cameras. There still needs to be a lot of policy work, such as how to handle Freedom of Information requests, obscuring juvenile or witness faces from the video and other issues and having the personnel able to do that.
“There’s a lot of implementation with this new technology that the chiefs are taking a look at,” he said. They plan to have it on their agenda for the September meeting.
Other departments like Round Lake Beach are just starting to look into it, partly because of the funding mechanism included in the bill the governor recently signed. For some departments it would be hard to afford and they want to make sure they get the right equipment.
“We want it done right the first time,” said Police Chief Dave Hare. But he believes they will benefit police and the community.
“Transparency is a good thing for the community and body camera play into that,” he said