Why Mundelein's police chief wants cameras for officers

Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther wants his officers to be among the first in Illinois to wear body cameras on the street.

With legislation that would allow cops here to use the devices awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner's signature, Guenther believes the gear will improve transparency and accountability in the department and lead to more cordial interactions with the public.

Guenther hopes to launch a test program this fall, and for every uniformed officer to be equipped with a camera by early 2016.

High-profile allegations of police brutality in other parts of the country, including cases that involved deaths, have made the program a priority for the chief.

"I think it's necessary. I really, truly do," Guenther said. "You can't turn the TV on without some sort of report about law enforcement (interacting) with the community. The spotlight has been on us, and it's been on us for some time."

Police departments in Round Lake and Round Lake Park are among those that also are investigating purchasing cameras for officers to wear.

The lightweight machines typically consist of a small camera that's clipped to a uniform shirt, often on the placket or lapel, and a hard drive the size of a deck of cards that slips into a pocket. The two are connected with a short cord.

Video and audio captured by the camera are saved on the hard drive. At the end of an officer's shift, they're transferred to a database at the police station for storage.

Illinois law has prevented officers from using video cameras to record public conversations and interactions. The new legislation changes that and establishes rules for use and data storage.

Additional policies would be created by municipalities that purchase the cameras for officers.

Guenther wants his officers to use body cameras virtually anytime they encounter someone in an official capacity.

Some exemptions would exist, such as casual conversations or interviews involving sex crimes or other sensitive subjects, he said.

The cameras wouldn't just be used to catch officer misconduct or bad behavior by a suspect. They could also help defend officers wrongly accused of acting inappropriately, Guenther said.

"This is, in once sense, a protection device for the officers," he said.

Guenther believes the public wants transparency in the police department as much as he does. But he also knows some people might be wary about being recorded when talking to an officer.

"We're going to have to work through that with the community, so they understand this thing is as much for your protection as it is for mine," he said.

Buying enough cameras and storage equipment for the department could cost between $50,000 and $60,000, Guenther said. State funding and grants could offset some of the cost.

Guenther plans to make his pitch to trustees and the public during an Aug. 10 public safety committee meeting. That session is set for 6 p.m. at village hall, 300 Plaza Circle. Residents will be encouraged to share their opinions at that meeting.

Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz already backs the concept.

"People are out there using their smartphones to record stuff anyway," Lentz said. "Now you've got an official recording."

Guenther said his officers support using the cameras, too. He hopes the public gets aboard as well - especially because of the growing distrust some people feel toward police officers.

"This technology has the capability of alleviating some of that (tension)," he said. "This is a way to ensure that we're acting appropriately."

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  Digital body camera proposed by Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther to outfit his officers. Mundelein could be one of the first villages in Illinois to use them. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
  Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther plans to outfit his officers with digital body cameras and be among the first villages in Illinois to use them. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
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