DuPage sheriff to seek federal grant for body cameras

The DuPage County's sheriff's department is seeking federal grant money in a renewed push to equip its deputies with body cameras.

Nearly two years ago, Sheriff John Zaruba failed to sell county board members on a roughly $1.1 million plan to replace aging video cameras in his department's squad cars with a new integrated recording system that would have included body cameras for every deputy.

Now the department has a scaled-down $150,000 proposal to purchase 100 body cameras, including one for each of its 78 patrol deputies. To raise the money, the sheriff's office is applying for a $75,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

"If there's a chance for us to ease the burden and save taxpayer dollars by implementing a program using federal money, then I think it's our responsibility to at least try," Chief James Kruse said Tuesday.

Officials say the sheriff's department is working to develop a comprehensive problem-solving approach "to improve deputy interactions with the public and to develop better community relationships." Body cameras, they say, provide accountability, transparency and can help de-escalate conflicts.

Kruse says equipping a deputy with a body camera ensures police work is being done properly and professionally.

"It reduces liability for the sheriff and the county," he said. "Because if you have video evidence of what the deputy did, you can dispel allegations. You can dispel notions of misconduct."

Kruse said the cost of body camera technology "has come down significantly" since Zaruba made his initial request in 2015.

And unlike the previous plan, the latest proposal doesn't provide body cameras for all the deputies assigned to jail and courthouse duty.

The new proposal also doesn't include the cost of replacing cameras in the vehicles and buying the equipment needed to store the video footage. Kruse said those upgrades still need to happen. But the sheriff's office is exploring alternatives to pay for them.

The application for the federal body camera grant needs to be submitted by Feb. 16. If the grant is awarded, the county will have two years to spend the money.

Still, there's no guarantee the county board will sign off on spending up to $75,000 for DuPage's share of the cost.

On Tuesday, some county board members said they have unanswered questions about how a body camera program would be implemented.

"It's a bigger process than just putting a camera on a deputy and going out there," board member Jim Zay said. "We need a presentation from the sheriff on how body cameras are going to be used by the sheriff's department."

Board member Pete DiCianni said last month's officer-involved fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trevon Johnson near Villa Park underscores the need for body cameras.

Johnson was shot and killed Jan. 2 by a DuPage sheriff's deputy responding to a domestic violence call. The deputy, who has not been named, told investigators he believed Johnson had a knife. Johnson's family said he was unarmed.

"If we had a body camera on that officer, we would be on more solid ground to defend a situation like that," DiCianni said.

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