Police committee hopes to make body camera recommendation by October

  • Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda gave an update on technology including body cameras at a special city council committee of the whole meeting Saturday. Swoboda said he welcomes "any tool that furthers our transparency and illustrates the professionalism of Elgin police officers."

      Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda gave an update on technology including body cameras at a special city council committee of the whole meeting Saturday. Swoboda said he welcomes "any tool that furthers our transparency and illustrates the professionalism of Elgin police officers." Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

 
 

From police body cameras to drones that can inspect water towers and relay data in emergencies, Elgin is looking into how to use new technology that's slowly being adopted across the country.

A newly formed committee of more than 20 members of the police department hopes to make a formal recommendation by October about outfitting officers with body cameras, but research into the use of drones is still in its infancy, city officials said.

The city is committed to investing in technology to become more efficient while saving in personnel costs, City Manager Sean Stegall said at a special city council committee of the whole meeting Saturday. "There are areas where we need more people, but that should never be a knee-jerk solution," he said.

Council members got an update about body cameras, which police officers had been informally testing for more than a year; drones were not formally discussed at the meeting, however, because the research is not expected to turn into anything concrete any time soon, Stegall said.

Body cameras increase accountability by the public and police officers, Police Cmdr. Ana Lalley said.

"It's a neutral third party where you can go and look at the video and see what happened," she said.

However, there are plenty of issues the police committee will have to sort through, such as which cameras work best, how to store video, and how to handle issues such as chain of custody and Freedom of Information Act requests, she said.

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Complicating matters, Illinois has no clear eavesdropping law, Lalley said.

The Chicago Police Department, which is finishing a 90-day trial of body cameras, informs residents they are being recorded but turns off the cameras if residents object, she said. "There is a lot involved with body worn cameras," she said.

Elgin primarily is interested in drones to inspect roofs and water towers and for public safety uses such as managing emergencies and getting data on troublesome traffic spots, Stegall and Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said.

There are also considerations such as money -- drones costs about $100,000 each but might get cheaper over time -- and Federal Aviation Administration regulations, Stegall said.

Illinois State Police officials announced Friday they received FAA approval to use drones to photograph crash and crime scenes, adding the program is not being implemented for surveillance purposes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Elgin also isn't looking into drones for surveillance, Stegall said."We don't want to be on the bleeding edge of this," he said, "and we need to get a better understanding of public acceptance."

The police committee will make a recommendation about body cameras to Swoboda, who said he welcomes "any tool that furthers our transparency and illustrates the professionalism of Elgin police officers."

The city council will have final say. "It's less about if and more about how and when," Stegall said.

Body cameras will lead to increased labor costs as police face more freedom of information requests, Councilman Terry Gavin said.

"We need to consider that too as part of the overall picture," he said.

The police department plans to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is disbursing $19 million for body camera pilot programs, Lalley said. Grants can be up to $250,000 and must have a 50 percent match.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The police department is also working on expanding its real-time technology, using it for things like monitoring festivals and aiding traffic and shooting investigations, Lalley said.

It currently can access images from 34 video cameras throughout the city, both public and private, she said.

There's a plan to buy more "pod cameras" that can be rapidly installed for special events, such as former Mexican President Felipe Calderon's visit to Judson University in March, and to use cameras to broadcast special events, such as Fourth of July celebrations, on the city's Web page, she said.

The department is also working on an agreement with Elgin Area School District U-46 to access school cameras when there are incidents, Lalley said.

Councilwoman Tish Powell asked how the department balances the use of cameras with privacy concerns.

Officers who access the cameras are all trained in privacy issues and leave a "digital fingerprint" when accessing video, Lalley said. Also, video is only stored for seven days, she said.

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