(WSIL) — Body cameras catch everything from heroic acts to crime, and in recent years they’ve become common in news headlines.
A new Illinois law is putting body cams on police statewide and small departments in Southern Illinois are struggling to keep up with the cost of the technology.
Local police, sheriff’s departments, and some state attorneys agree they’re a great tool but say they need more funding and mandates that don’t limit their usefulness.
Zeigler Assistant Police Chief Jeremy Childers said they’ve had their cameras for around 10 years and know the benefits. "They don’t even notice the camera and they’ll make all kinds of wild accusations and during the discovery process the camera will come up and they’ll say, maybe he didn’t hit me," said Childers.
Under current regulations, all footage captured on the cameras has to be stored for a minimum of 90 days. It can either be stored on-site or by purchasing a subscription from one of several cloud servers.
Childers said Zeigler’s Police Department is understaffed and already strapped for cash leaving them no option but to purchase a minimum amount of cloud storage from Axon, the company that produces their cameras. "We pay $1,800 a year for 150 gigs of storage and we fill that up very quickly in the year," added Childers.
To save money and space, the department runs its cameras on the lowest resolution. This can sometimes cause the video to be choppy or missing sound. But, this is the only option to be in compliance with the criminal justice Reform Bill, which requires all police officers in the state of Illinois to wear a body camera by the year 2025.
Childers said including himself Zeigler has three full-time officers to cover all shifts and sometimes they work 16 hours a day. He adds the camera batteries won’t last that long and his department needs more cameras and manpower to better serve the community
The State Law Enforcement Camera Grant Act. may reimburse up to $895 per body camera, $5,752 per dashboard camera but zero for storage.
Hamilton County Sheriff Tracy Lakin said he is counting on these grants but the initial cost is the challenge he is facing. Right now his department does not have body or dash cameras. He said It will cost thousands of dollars to outfit eight full-time deputies plus the part-time deputies "We need to get the body cameras now and hopefully the Illinois Law enforcement Standard Training board will reimburse us on those," said Lakin.
Hamilton County State’s Attorney Justin Hood is hoping the county can secure the funds soon because the footage is a big help for him when prosecuting cases. "It’s invaluable information because a police report can only have so many words they can put on the paper. And there’s a lot of things you can see on the camera that don’t make the report," said Hood.
Wearing the camera is not hard as long as you wear the same style uniform every day, something Saline County Sheriff Whipper Johnson rarely does.
"Just logistics of swapping it over, keeping the battery up and simple operation you know in stressful situations," he continued while tapping a camera in his hand. "Trying to double-tap this to turn it on can be problematic."
Sheriff Johnson demonstrated how simple the camera is to operate and how easy it can accidentally be shut off during a scuffle. "You think you turned it on and then review the video and you didn’t turn it on," said Johnson.
News 3’s Dave Davis asks "Under the new mandate what happens if your camera doesn’t turn on?" Johnson replied " Class 3 Felony."
Sheriff Johnson also said another downside to the Axon 2 body camera is that it takes roughly 30 seconds before it starts recording audio and that can be a problem for telling the whole story.
Zeigler Assistant Police Chief Childers said this is another example of why local police feel the new mandate puts them at a disadvantage. "An officer can shoot video but can’t look at it before he writes his report. It’s almost like the legislators built in a Gotcha. But, someone can record a five-second snippet on an iPhone and edit it to make us look bad. There’s no prohibition on them, just us, " added Childers.
Those interviewed hope lawmakers will include smaller departments in future discussions and come up with solutions that improve policing for everyone and not just some.
May 26, 2021 at 01:12PM