Vernon Hills police to evaluate use of body cameras

Ten Vernon Hills police officers will be equipped with body cameras to determine whether the practice should expand to the entire department.

The experiment is expected to start in about two weeks, with a recommendation anticipated by Oct. 1, Police Chief Patrick Kreis said.

The cameras will be worn by select officers who will provide feedback as part of an evaluation to determine whether the value and cost warrant equipping the entire department.

Kreis said he has been an advocate of bodycams since they were allowed by Illinois law in 2015. But cost and administrative requirements of the law has stymied widespread use.

"There's a whole process," he said. "It's not as simple as putting a camera on your uniform."

Issues include data storage requirements, administrative reviews when required and responses to Freedom of Information requests, for example.

"The specific guidance in Illinois law really caused a lot of departments to slow down" in considering the use of body cameras, according to Kreis.

The amount of data to be recorded and length of time it needs to be stored, for example, in some cases could require additional staff, he said, and there was a concern systems could become very expensive to operate.

Kreis said the possibility of equipping Vernon Hills police with bodycams has been on his radar awhile.

System costs have come down, he added, and though not driven by a specific situation, the use of bodycams is in keeping with the department's mission to continuously improve.

"Certainly, our desire to be transparent and document most effectively all the things we do has added to our interest in bodycams," he said.

Body cameras are used in a few municipal police departments in Lake County, including Lakemoor, Waukegan, Mundelein and Gurnee.

The Lake County sheriff's office started its "body-worn camera" program in early 2016, according to Sgt. Christopher Covelli, spokesman for the office.

They are used by all patrol and marine unit deputies, detectives, court security officers and corrections employees, he said.

"They add an additional level of transparency and also serve to document the actions of our staff and those we have contact with, which causes little room for interpretation, as it's all captured on camera," Covelli said.

"The community, now more than ever, wants to see transparency with their local law-enforcement, and we believe in the same," he added.

All Lake County sheriff squad cars used for patrol are equipped with video cameras as well.

Since 2018, Vernon Hills police have used cameras with audio and video capability in nine of its 14 marked vehicles.

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