Body cameras improve safety of public, police

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

Imagine how different the conversation would have been in 2009 if the police officers who shot and killed Mark Anthony Barmore after chasing him into a downtown Rockford church had been wearing body cameras.

Witness accounts of the incident differed from what initially was reported by officers at the scene, and a divided community argued about whether the officers had acted appropriately.

We’re thankful that such incidents are rare in the Rock River Valley, and we hope we never see anything like it again.

However, if something were to happen, video provided by a body camera would show an unbiased account of the event.

The public has been recording controversial events involving police for years. Police should have the power to offer an official recording of their own.

In-car dashboard cameras are common among local law enforcement agencies, but they are not as powerful a tool as body cameras would be. Local officers should be equipped with body cameras as soon as possible.

Legislation proposed by two state lawmakers could make that possibility happen more quickly.

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, and Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, will push a bill in the veto session that would provide more money to equip police departments with body cameras for officers.

They even have a way to pay for it: People convicted of criminal or traffic offenses would pay an extra $6 surcharge. The surcharge would raise $4 million to $6 million a year, which would be split between grants for police cameras and funding for the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.

Representatives of the NAACP, Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police have endorsed the bill.

Body cameras cost about $400 apiece and require additional computer hardware and software. However, six to seven officers could be equipped with body cameras for the same price as an in-car dashboard camera, according to the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association.

Patrick Hoey, assistant deputy chief in the Rockford Police Department, told Rockford Register Star columnist Georgette Braun that the department is ready for body cameras. However, Rockford is waiting for a new eavesdropping law. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled the Illinois Eavesdropping Act unconstitutional earlier this year.

Not everyone is waiting: The Belvidere Police Department has had one body-worn camera since 2010, and the Stephenson County Sheriff’s Department is getting body cameras for its correctional officers.

“The cameras are there for the protection of the officers as well as the protection of the inmates — it works both ways,” Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders told Jeremy Sharp, a reporter for The Journal-Standard of Freeport. “We thought because of some situations we’ve experienced at the jail, the cameras would be a benefit to add to our equipment list.”

A 2005 International Association of Chiefs of Police report found that cameras aided law enforcement by improving officer safety. Cameras often confirm an officer’s version of events, the report said, in addition to reducing department liability and providing transparency for the community.

It’s a matter of when — not if — local officers start wearing body cameras. It’s a national trend. Chicago is considering a pilot program. The New York Police Department plans to start a pilot program this fall. The Los Angeles Police Department began testing body cameras about a year ago. The Houston Police Department is asking for money to buy cameras.

Policies and procedures will need to be created that govern when the cameras can be turned off, i.e. during breaks, but generally we think cameras should be on most of the time.

—GateHouse News Service