DuPage sheriff candidates disagree on using body cameras
The two candidates seeking to become DuPage's next sheriff disagree on whether the county should outfit deputies with body cameras.
Republican James Mendrick and Democrat Gregory Whalen are running in the Nov. 6 election to replace longtime Sheriff John Zaruba, who is retiring after more than two decades in office.
One issue the winner is expected to face is whether the sheriff's office should revisit the idea of body cameras. Zaruba wanted to implement a body camera program in recent years but wasn't able to persuade the county board to buy the devices.
Whalen said during a recent endorsement session with the Daily Herald that he believes body cameras are "absolutely a good idea."
"The body camera program protects your officers and it also protects your public," said Whalen, a Clarendon Hills resident who serves as a lieutenant with the Glencoe Department of Public Safety. "It creates transparency and accountability."
But Mendrick says county officials learned last year that maintaining a body camera program would be too costly.
"I think bodycams -- if they work exactly the way you want them to -- are a good idea if they weren't so expensive," said Mendrick, a Woodridge resident who has served in the sheriff's department for more than 20 years.
Last year, the sheriff's office was eligible for a $75,000 matching federal grant to buy 100 body cameras, including one for each patrol deputy. But to receive the grant, the county had to agree to spend $75,000 to help purchase the cameras.
In the end, officials decided they couldn't afford the expenditure.
Mendrick said the problem wasn't the price of the cameras, it was the other costs associated with the program.
According to one preliminary estimate, it would have cost roughly $300,000 a year to store video footage from 100 cameras. In addition, the state's attorney's office would have needed to hire a new assistant state's attorney and another support staff member to catalog the data and respond to Freedom of Information requests.
Increased costs also were anticipated for the public defender's office and the circuit court clerk's office, which would have been required to store copies of the video footage related to court cases.
"All these ancillary costs are going to be a burden on taxpayers," said Mendrick, adding that higher taxes or staff reductions in the department may be needed to pay for a body camera program.
Whalen stressed he wouldn't want to increase taxes or cut staff.
But he said the department's budget could be examined to see if money could be found to help pay for cameras. He also talked about seeking state and federal grants and perhaps forming a not-for-profit foundation to help raise money.
In addition to the cost of the program, Mendrick said the department would have to deal with other issues. For example, victims of sexual assault and domestic violence may not want to speak to officers equipped with body cameras.
Meanwhile, the sheriff's office already has video cameras in squad cars. And the department doesn't get enough use-of-force complaints each year to justify body cameras.
"I'm proud to say in DuPage County our use of force is extremely low," Mendrick said.
Still, Whalen said there's going to be situations where force is used. "From my perspective, I would rather have the ability to have that on video," he said.