Joe McMahon says police body cameras can be helpful, but costly

  • Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon supports police body cameras.

      Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon supports police body cameras. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Updated 1/14/2016 2:48 PM

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon says he believes police body cameras are a good idea, but officials need to be thoughtful in their implementation.

From a prosecutor's standpoint, McMahon said, evidence gathered from a police body camera can be immensely helpful to jurors and judges reaching a verdict.


Video information also gives the state's attorney's office more information on whether to pursue a case or a particular set of charges.

"Videos tend to be better than still photographs (in the courtroom for jurors to see)," McMahon said. "There is a real desire for the community to have law enforcement employ the use of body cameras. I think it's a good thing. I'm pleased and supportive of the idea of body cameras. We just have to be thoughtful when implementing them."

Last year, the City of Elgin landed a matching federal grant to buy and equip its police officers with body cameras. Officials hope the camera program will be up and running by summer.

One drawback, McMahon said, is increased resources needed to review video content and arriving at a good policy as to when the cameras need to be turned on or off.

McMahon cautioned it could be costly to store and retrieve video recordings; he noted the city of Los Angeles requested 120 more personnel to manage the storage and viewing of camera videos. While any affect on Kane County would be considerably less, McMahon noted the cameras could place additional demands on his prosecutors to watch and review camera videos before court proceedings.

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Three hours of camera video from four different responding officers could translate to 12 hours of video a prosecutor needs to review for a case.

Other questions exist for how long an officer must have the camera actually recording. For example, does it stay on if the officer takes a personal phone call or visits the restroom?

"When can that camera be turned off?" McMahon asked. "When does it have to be on?"

Some departments have used cameras without microphones, thus removing concerns of eavesdropping if there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. But this approach also has its drawbacks.

"Obviously, a lot of what is said and who says it is critically important," McMahon said. "We'll get there. It's taking time."

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