Wheeling police to start wearing body cameras next year

With police conduct and transparency a growing concern in communities across the nation, Wheeling's police officers will start wearing body cameras for the first time early next year.

The village board on Monday unanimously agreed to purchase 55 body cameras for all personnel in the patrol, traffic and investigations divisions.

The department also is getting 15 new cameras for squad cars. They'll replace equipment that is more than five years old and is outdated, Police Chief Jamie Dunne said.

The gear will cost $238,495.

Dunne hopes to have the body cameras and in-car cameras in use in February.

"It'll take six to eight weeks to receive the equipment, then another month to implement and train," he said.

Dunne said officials recognized discussions about police activity and body-camera usage are "reaching a peak." Those debates - and protests and civil unrest - ramped up this year after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police while in custody.

Additionally, Dunne said cameras are more affordable now than in the past. Many vendors are packaging body cameras with in-car cameras and cloud-based data storage options, he said.

The Mount Prospect, Antioch, Bloomingdale and Batavia police departments are among the other suburban agencies that have purchased body cameras for officers in recent months.

Many others - including Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove and Prospect Heights - have not yet adopted the equipment.

Body cameras can provide evidence for trials, be used to prove or disprove allegations of abuse or inappropriate behavior by police officers, and help determine training needs, among other benefits, Dunne said.

The cameras Wheeling is buying are manufactured by a Motorola Solutions subsidiary called WatchGuard Video.

The body cameras are small black boxes worn mid-torso on the front of the uniform. They record video and audio.

The body and in-car cameras are activated when a squad car's emergency lights are turned on, a squad car reaches a certain speed or there is a crash, Dunne said.

The system also can be manually operated or triggered by actions such as a call for service. Footage is uploaded to storage via Wi-Fi.

The in-car camera systems have two front-facing cameras. One takes 180-degree panoramic footage, while the other can be turned in any direction if an officer needs to film something on the side or to the rear, Dunne said.

The in-car cameras are wired to computers, so Wi-Fi service isn't needed.

Recordings from either type of camera will be kept for at least 90 days, and for two years if they are related to an incident involving a complaint, a weapon fired by an officer, the death or great injury of a person, an arrest or an investigation into an officer's actions.

The village board approved the purchase without discussion.

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