Elgin police chief testifies in support of expanded use of body cameras

Elgin Police Chief Ana Lalley testified before an Illinois Senate committee in support of more police departments using body cameras this week, but she said the devices are only part of what law enforcement must do to build trust with civilians.

Lalley spoke at a joint hearing of the Senate Criminal Law Committee and Senate Special Committee on Public Safety.

Elgin was one of the first departments in Illinois to begin using body cameras since lawmakers enacted statewide standards for such devices five years ago. Elgin's cameras went live in June 2017, but not a lot of police agencies followed.

A 2019 report by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training & Standards Board showed 75 of the 900 law enforcement agencies in the state use body cameras. An additional five agencies, included those at Loyola University and Northern Illinois University, had cameras but logged zero recordings in 2019.

Lalley, who spoke on behalf of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said cost is the primary barrier to more agencies using cameras. Elgin got its program up and running thanks to a two-year, $500,000 federal grant for equipment and training. But it still costs the city $170,000 a year to store the video recordings.

Responding to Freedom of Information Act requests for video recordings is also costly and time-consuming, Lalley said. To date, Elgin has received about 6,000 such requests, including 1,400 just this year. It can take hours for police to review and redact elements from the video, as required by state law, before releasing it to the public. Lalley asked state lawmakers to end those redaction requirements but limit both who can make a legal request for the videos and what types of videos the police are required to release.

Elgin's 2019 report shows 2,354 incidents recorded by the 203 cameras the department has in use. The top three types of incidents recorded involved DUIs, driving with a revoked or suspended license and domestic battery. There were also 181 incidents involving resisting or obstructing an officer.

"Body-worn cameras can provide a documented, firsthand perspective of what was said and what actions were taken in a police/citizen encounter," Lalley said. "However, body-worn cameras are fallible and prone to both human and technological failure. Cameras will not solely resolve complicated issues, such as trust between a law enforcement agency and its community."

Victim and witness testimony and physical evidence also are key parts of piecing together an investigation, she said.

Trust is earned every day on the job, Lalley said, as well as by being present, responsive and transparent in the local community.

To that end, Elgin City Council Member Tish Powell highlighted the city's resident officer program. The city provides housing to officers within five of the city's "most challenged" neighborhoods.

"This program has allowed these officers to live in and among the public they are sworn to protect and serve, forge relationships and increase trust in order to improve community safety," Powell said.

She pushed state lawmakers to allow towns with more than 100,000 residents to have more control over whether they require officers to live within the communities they police. State law leaves officer residency in the hands of collective bargaining and arbitration. Powell said it gives too much power to police unions and arbitrators to determine the residency requirement.

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