Elgin police hoping for body cameras by January
A plan to equip police officers with body cameras is moving forward in Elgin, where there have been more shootings but less crime overall so far this year.
The city has put out a request for bids for 200 body cameras -- enough to outfit its 180 or so officers -- plus equipment such as video storage, redacting software and more.
If everything goes smoothly, body cameras will start rolling out among officers by January -- provided the department is allowed to hire two more people to deal with the additional workload, Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said. "That is crucial." he said.
Elgin received a federal grant of up to $250,000 for the body cameras, which will be matched by city drug asset forfeiture funds. The 2017 budget request includes $192,000 for an additional IT employee and an employee to handle video-related Freedom of Information Act requests, Deputy Chief Bill Wolf said.
Swoboda said the body cameras will be rolled out in phases. "It might take up to a year before everyone has one."
Ten police officers tested a variety of body cameras during a nine-month pilot program that ended in June. The police department initially said it hoped to have body cameras by this summer, but the process took longer than anticipated.
"We just didn't want to rush into it," Wolf said. "We feel based on the information we have received from the community, that this is the direction that the community wants us to move."
Crime this year
There have been 44 shootings in Elgin this year, compared to 39 in the same period last year and 33 in 2014, data shows. Five people suffered injuries, compared to 15 last year, and none were random victims.
It is also the longest stretch that the city has gone without a murder in any given year since data tracking began in 1970.
"That is great news, but we also know that can change tomorrow," Swoboda said.
Overall crime is down by 8 percent, Wolf said. Through the month of July, batteries were down 16 percent, burglaries were down 27 percent and thefts were down 18 percent compared to last year. In those areas, "We think that a lot of strategies and things we are doing are working," he said.
The increase in shootings this year has been a focus of police work, Wolf said. "We have had a lot of brainstorming sessions in terms of trying to figure out what's the root issue," he said.
For example, night shift officers try to spot loud parties and break them up before things get out of control, he said.
Shooting decreased this summer, with one in July and four so far in August.
The department uses "predictive policing" software that, based on crime patterns, "puts officers in the right neighborhoods at the right times" to try to prevent crime, Wolf said.
Unlike police departments like Chicago, Elgin has not seen a decline in active policing, Wolf said. Police have conducted 10,410 traffic stops so far this year, compared to 7,231 last year and 6,705 in 2014, data shows.
"That's particularly important," Wolf said. "Especially our midnight shift, the late hours where the chances of significant crimes go up, our officers have not been hesitant about going out there."