DuPage debating body cameras for sheriff's deputies

The DuPage sheriff's office could receive a federal grant to help equip its deputies with body cameras, but the county may not accept the money.

Some county board members continue to question the value of the cameras and express concerns about the cost of maintaining the program moving forward.

"The money we would get from the federal government through this grant is a drop in the bucket compared to what we're going to need financially to support this whole system," said Grant Eckhoff, chairman of the county board's judicial and public safety committee.

Two years ago, cost concerns prevented Sheriff John Zaruba from persuading board members to buy cameras for every deputy.

Now the department has scaled down its request to $150,000 to buy 100 body cameras, including one for each patrol deputy.

The sheriff's office in February applied for a $75,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to pay for the program.

Chief James Kruse said the department was told it's eligible for the grant and has until mid-November to accept it. If it receives the money, the department will have two years to spend it.

Kruse said body cameras provide accountability and transparency and can help de-escalate conflicts.

"It's about officer safety," he said. "It's about public safety. It also reduces liability for the county."

Still, there's no guarantee the county board will sign off on spending $75,000 for DuPage's share of the cost.

On Tuesday, several board members said the county faces budgetary issues because of state funding cutbacks and maintaining a body camera program would be a significant cost.

According to one preliminary estimate, it would cost roughly $300,000 a year to store video footage from 100 cameras. In addition, the state's attorney's office would need to hire a new assistant state's attorney and another support staff member.

There also could be increased costs for the public defender's office and the circuit court clerk's office, critics say.

"It could end up costing us $500,000 just to implement this program," board member Jim Zay said.

Representatives from multiple county departments met last week to begin a review of costs and other issues related to body cameras.

"There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered," Zay said.

The board's judicial and public safety committee may have a public discussion before making a decision.

Eckhoff said he wants to know why the sheriff's office needs cameras.

"The need for the cameras in a lot of different parts of the country is because there's a huge distrust between law enforcement and residents," Eckhoff said. "I don't think that exists in DuPage County."

Kruse said a county body camera program could inspire municipal departments to use the devices. "I think it's going to be a valuable tool," he said.

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