East Dundee suspends police body camera program without ever using them

 
 
Posted2/20/2018 5:30 AM
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  • East Dundee officials are trying to save money by suspending a program that would have equipped all police officers with body cameras.

      East Dundee officials are trying to save money by suspending a program that would have equipped all police officers with body cameras. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Before they've even been put to use, a set of body cameras intended to be worn by East Dundee police will remain in storage after trustees agreed Monday to suspend the program.

All officers were expected to be equipped with body cameras as part of a five-year contract with Arizona-based Taser International, which included video storage and management services. The deal went into effect in January 2017, and the 20 cameras were delivered last spring, but interim Chief George Carpenter said they have yet to be taken out of their boxes.

Even so, the village paid its required $21,210 in first-year program costs, as stipulated in the contract. Rather than spend another $18,660 annually for the next four years, the village board concurred with Carpenter's recommendation to cancel the contract and reconsider a body camera program when the village's finances are more stable.

"At this point, it's a sunk cost. We paid for a service we didn't utilize for whatever reason," Trustee Scott Andresen said. "I do like the idea of bodycams. I think it's for the benefit of the residents and law enforcement. We just don't have cash for it."

Carpenter said it's unclear why officers were never trained to use the cameras. He was appointed to the interim position and tasked with conducting an assessment of the department shortly after former Chief Terry Mee retired last month.

Though a supporter of body cameras, Carpenter said he's unaware of any like-sized agencies that use them. East Dundee has 12 full-time officers, including the chief, and a handful of part-timers.

The program's steep price tag is largely attributed to the cost of managing and storing high volumes of footage captured by the cameras, Carpenter said. Additionally, he said, increased staff time would likely be necessary for responding to Freedom of Information requests for body camera videos.

Many departments implement body cameras in response to specific concerns such as biased policing, Carpenter said, but he is unaware of any such issues in East Dundee.

"That's not to say the original choice to purchase body cameras was not a good choice. I think there's real vision involved here," he said, noting the program can be useful for reviewing police responses and training officers. "Financially, it just doesn't appear to be prudent at this time."

The village will keep the cameras even after informing Taser International, which has since changed its name to Axon, that it no longer has the funds to finish out the contract, Carpenter said. Trustees could later decide to reactivate the program using that equipment, or through a new company with updated technology.

"I would like to look at this again," Village President Lael Miller said. "I do believe it makes sense both for the safety of residents and officers."

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