Mundelein police officers to wear body cameras starting this summer

By the end of the summer, all of the Mundelein Police Department's patrol officers should have body cameras to record their encounters with the public.

Squad cars will be equipped with new cameras, too.

The village board on Monday agreed to spend $386,250 over the course of a five-year contract with Axon, an Arizona company that makes cameras and other law enforcement gear. The first year's payment is estimated to be $100,000.

The purchase comes nearly two years after Mundelein police began testing different body cameras on the street as a way to improve accountability and relations with the public and ensure officer safety.

The pilot program was partially prompted by a number of high-profile allegations of police brutality elsewhere in the nation, including cases that involved deaths.

Mayor Steve Lentz said body cameras will bring more transparency to the department and make police encounters safer for officers and civilians.

"It benefits the officers and the public to have that camera on," Lentz said.

Illinois law long prevented officers from using video cameras to record public conversations and interactions. But legislation that went into effect last year legalized them and established rules for use and data storage.

Mundelein police tested nine or 10 models from five manufacturers before settling on an Axon camera system.

"We reached out to what are considered industry leaders and ended with what we feel is the most robust, user-friendly, advanced product that met our needs," Mundelein Public Safety Director Eric Guenther said.

Axon's lightweight body camera is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards. Officers will clip them to their uniform shirts near the chest.

The cameras have a 12-hour battery life and are rechargeable. They will film everything they see unless deactivated by an officer.

"That's important because we never know when we need to capture something," Guenther said.

The cameras automatically will erase footage second by second unless officers manually activate them to keep recording.

"Then it actually creates a file including the previous 30 seconds," Guenther said.

The cameras also will begin recording anytime an officer's gun is removed from its holster.

Videos are temporarily saved on internal hard drives and then uploaded wirelessly to Axon's cloud-based servers. The police department will not store anything locally.

The footage will be accessible to officers and prosecutors. Defense attorneys can be granted temporary passwords to view videos, too, Guenther said.

In addition to providing evidence in court, camera footage can be used for training, such as teaching officers how to deal with people suffering from mental illness. Guenther showed trustees video from just such a confrontation during a presentation at Monday night's board meeting.

If the department receives a civilian or media request under the Freedom of Information Act to review footage, the Axon software allows officers to blur civilians' or suspects' faces to protect their identities if needed, Guenther said.

As part of the deal with Axon, the department will receive 50 body cameras - one for each of its patrol officers and patrol supervisors, one that will be used by detectives as needed, and three spares.

Detectives don't need individual cameras because their interactions with the public are limited, Guenther said. Guenther and the other departmental administrators won't get cameras.

Additionally, Axon will provide 13 squad-car cameras that are compatible with the body cameras. The company will provide stun guns for each street officer, too.

Under the contract, the gear will be replaced after 2½ years of service, Guenther said.

Police in Gurnee, Lakemoor, East Dundee and Chicago are among those who wear body cameras. So do Lake County sheriff's deputies.

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  Mundelein Public Safety Director Eric Guenther dons one of the body cameras officers will wear starting later this summer. Russell Lissau/
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