The DuPage County sheriff's office is going to spend more than $600,000 to replace aging video cameras in dozens of its squad cars.
But while the purchase also will help the department develop the infrastructure needed for body cameras, county officials say there's no guarantee sheriff's deputies will be equipped with those devices.
"We don't want to commit to a body camera program without knowing all the ramifications," county board member Grant Eckhoff said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the county board approved a $621,840 contract with WatchGuard Video to buy in-car video systems for 92 sheriff's vehicles.
The systems take high-definition videos with panoramic views of what happens in front of the squad car. They will replace dash cameras that are at least 16 years old, officials said.
Sheriff's officials said the system includes new equipment to store video footage and would integrate seamlessly with body cameras.
That's significant for the sheriff's department, because it has applied for a federal grant to help pay for a $150,000 proposal to buy 100 body cameras, including one for each of the department's 78 patrol deputies.
Even if the grant is awarded, Eckhoff said it doesn't mean the county board will provide $75,000 in matching funds to receive the federal grant.
"The sheriff has a right to apply for any grant that he wants," said Eckhoff, who serves as chairman of the county board's judicial and public safety committee. "On the other hand, there's no commitment from us to participate in the grant."
Sheriff's officials say body cameras provide accountability and transparency and can help de-escalate conflicts. Equipping a deputy with a body camera also ensures police work is being done properly and professionally.
But Eckhoff said the sheriff's office must do a presentation for county board members and convince them body cameras are worth the cost.
"From everything I read, it's a much larger financial commitment than just purchasing the cameras," he said.
He said there's an annual expense to store the numerous hours of video from body cameras. There also are costs associated with state's attorneys and public defenders reviewing body camera footage.
Meanwhile, balancing the county's budget for next year is expected to be a challenge.
Eckhoff said he wants to know if there's a way to pay for a body camera program without using money from the county's general fund.
One reason county board members supported the purchase of the dash cameras is because the sheriff's office is paying for it.
While it will get the dash cameras and all the related equipment immediately, the department will pay the $621,840 cost over five years with money it receives from drug asset forfeitures.
The sheriff's Drug Traffic Prevention fund has close to $400,000 and gets more federal money on a yearly basis.