Elgin police consider equipping school officers with body cameras
The Elgin Police Department is working with the school district on policies for the use of body cameras by school resource officers.
The department has seven full-time resource officers within Elgin Area School District U-46's four Elgin middle schools, Elgin and Larkin high schools, and the district's main administration building. They are the only officers without body cameras within the department.
U-46's middle schools and high schools in Bartlett, South Elgin, and Streamwood also have resource officers and those villages' departments don't have body cameras.
Elgin ventured into body cameras in 2016 -- mirroring a growing trend at suburban police departments -- equipping a majority of its officers by last summer.
"We are at almost full deployment," said Cmdr. Ana Lalley, who is overseeing the initiative to get school resource officers into the fold.
Lalley said U-46 leaders agree on the cameras and district attorneys are ironing out the details related to privacy protections.
"We started talking with them (about) how can we implement the cameras," Lalley said. "They may have some concerns because it's a school and (for) privacy. We are taking our time, figuring out what our next steps are."
U-46 spokeswoman Mary Fergus confirmed district officials and attorneys are reviewing the matter, though she couldn't comment further.
Elgin is the first Kane County police department and the latest in the suburbs to consider equipping school resource officers with body cameras. The Gurnee and Mundelein police departments embraced body cameras at some schools last year.
Illinois' body camera law requires officers to record all law enforcement-related activity and interactions with the public. Cameras can be turned off only at the request of a crime victim or witness, and departments have to store the videos for 90 days.
Experts say body cameras increase police accountability, providing documentation and added protections for the public and also the officers to defend against complaints.
"It is not intended to be utilized at all times, and not during caretaking functions," Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther said. "When (the officer) is dealing with students in the hallways, the public relations aspect of the job, you are not expected to have the camera on or activated."
Officers must turn the cameras on if responding to a call at the schools, an altercation, and when dealing with irate parents, Guenther said.
Mundelein has officers with body cameras at Carl Sandburg Middle School and Mundelein High School. Since the cameras were deployed last fall, police haven't received any complaints from parents or teachers, Guenther said.
Having body cameras doesn't make these resource officers less approachable as long as "you are transparent with its use and what it's there for," Guenther said.
Police can use the recordings for improving interactions with the public by analyzing what words were exchanged and whether officers de-escalated a situation.
"The audio part of it becomes so critical," Guenther said, especially when students can record the officers with their cellphones and post on social media platforms. "This gives (us) the ability to understand the interaction between the officer and the individual. It becomes important to have our own view of what took place."