Elgin police testing cameras on helmet, body
The Elgin Police Department has been testing body-worn cameras for about a year in hopes of providing added protection and accountability for officers and civilians, officials said.
"If there are two different accounts of what happened, the video makes it pretty clear-cut what actually occurred," Deputy Chief Bill Wolf said.
The use of body cameras by police officers has been in the news most recently after the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson. Ferguson police started wearing body cameras about three weeks after the shooting.
"When there's situations where there's unanswered questions, that would be helpful," Wolf said.
Elgin tactical response -- or SWAT -- team members and patrol officers have tested eight to 10 cameras overall, said Sgt. Jim Lalley, who heads the tactical response team.
It's much more effective to carry a camera attached to a tactical helmet because it follows the movement of the head and eyes, Lalley said.
Cameras worn on the body, on the other hand, can be tricky, he said.
Officers are trained to hold their palms together over their chest to allow for quick reaction when needed, but that can obstruct the camera's view, he said.
They are also trained to position themselves sideways, weapon-side away, which means the camera won't show what the officer is focusing on, officer Eric Echevarria said.
"It doesn't give you my point of view, like during a traffic stop when I'm talking to someone in a car," he said.
There are also technical problems, like clip-on cameras falling off or getting accidentally turned on by seat belts while driving, he said.
One idea is requiring officers to wear glasses, but that could be cumbersome for some, Lalley said.
Testing in Elgin mostly operated under the assumption that Illinois' eavesdropping law -- among the strictest in the nation -- prevented audio recording without consent, Lalley said.
However, the Kane County state's attorney's office recently opined that audio recording is permissible, Lalley said.
Police also will be seeking input on the matter from Elgin's legal department, Cmdr. Dan O'Shea said.
"The eavesdropping law has been held unconstitutional," Kane County First Assistant State's Attorney Jody Gleason said, referring to a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in March.
"I don't think there is anything right now that prevents them from using cameras in audio mode or video mode."
Gleason said that in the last month or so, she's been getting calls from several law enforcement agencies asking about the legality of body cameras.
Body cameras are under consideration in Chicago and Springfield, according to the Associated Press.
A major drawback of not recording audio became clear about three weeks ago, Lalley said.
The tactical response team activated cameras with no audio while executing a search warrant. The silent video shows the officers entering the home through an open door, but the officers can't be heard announcing their presence, Lalley said.
"It looks like we just ran in and didn't do a proper 'knock and announce,' but we did," he said.
The tactical response team was most satisfied with a $169 camera made by Contour, so it will be purchasing three or four more for further testing, Lalley said.
If the department decides to purchase body cameras for everyone, proper policies regarding their use and storage of recording will be needed, Lalley said.
Much more testing needs to be done, especially for patrol officers, Wolf said.
"There's a lot of things to work out," he said. "I can't say for sure that we've committed to (using body cameras) 100 percent, but it's definitely something we're strongly considering."
Wolf said he believes it will eventually become the norm for all law enforcement.
"In Elgin, we were an early adopter to dash(board) cameras, and it's kind of become mainstream," he said. "It will eventually be followed by body cameras."