‘Transparency is the word’ – Rock Falls poised to be the first local force using body cameras
ROCK FALLS – This city’s police may be the first local force to use body cameras.
The City Council is set to vote Tuesday whether to approve a 5-year, $125,500 agreement with Axon Enterprises of Scottsdale, Arizona, to provide 17 body cameras and seven car cameras.
Rock Falls now has cameras in five of its seven marked vehicles, and will add cameras to the other two. The cost will be about $35,000 for the first year, and about $22,600 a year after that.
Although the proposal comes after the fatal Jan. 26 officer-involved shooting of driver Nathaniel T. “Nate” Edwards, 43, of Sterling, the use of body cameras has been in the works for some time, Cmdr. Doug Coppotelli said.
“We’ve had a couple officer-involved shootings in the past few years, but we’ve also been looking at this for a couple of years,” Coppotelli said.
“It’s a totality of everything that’s going on out there. Everyone wants everything on video. Transparency is the huge word out there.”
City Administrator Robbin Blackert agreed.
“I believe any time you have an unfortunate incident like the one we had, it’s a catalyst. But it’s not the sole reason,” Blackert said.
“We believe [body cameras will] be mandated by either the federal government or the state of Illinois in the next few years.”
Not only are body cameras used to obtain evidence in criminal cases, or when complaints against officers are filed, but they also help identify training needs, Coppotelli said.
Axon already handles the department’s stun guns, noting when they are used or need new batteries.
Sterling and Dixon’s marked vehicles, and Lee, Whiteside and District 1 State Police squad cars are equipped with video cameras, but none of those agencies use body cameras.
Paying for data storage is expensive, Sterling Chief Tim Morgan said. “Now that Rock Falls has them, we’ll see how they do and how it goes.”
His department’s dash cams are being updated this year. It will cost $45,000, $18,500 of which will come from a state grant, Morgan said.
Cameras are a great tool, Dixon Police Lt. Brad Sibley said, but he is concerned about the current legislation governing their use, including language that requires officers to notify every single person who’s being recorded.
“That seems like an extra step that’s really not necessary. It’s 2018. People should probably expect to be recorded,” he said.
Also, “from an officer perspective, there’s some privacy stuff, that you could get some stuff recorded you don’t want recorded. Not from doing something wrong, but they could say something that has nothing to do with the case,” Sibley said.
The legislation also requires recordings be edited to remove identification of any person who is not a subject of or directly involved with the encounter.
“The up-front costs of the cameras isn’t bad. It’s the server and storage space for saving them, and the additional issues of Freedom of Information Act requests,” Sibley said.
ISP Sgt. Mike Kuehl and Lee County Sheriff John Simonton both cited the expense of storing body camera video.
“Then you get into how long you store it. There’s so much that has to be thought about,” Kuehl said.
The legislation also has given the Simonton pause.
“Our attorney for the Illinois Sheriff’s Association is not necessarily recommending using them right now.”