Des Plaines police will soon have enough body cameras for each officer

Before he heads out on the street for his daily shift, Des Plaines police officer Evan Franck stops off at the police station's front desk to get a body camera he must attach to his vest.

And when his shift ends about 8½ hours later, Franck returns the borrowed camera so it can transfer videos, recharge and be ready for an officer on a later shift to use.

Sign out a camera, work a shift, return it. Repeat. The routine has been the same since Franck joined the force three years ago.

But it's about to change.

Des Plaines police are getting dozens of new body cameras so officers no longer will have to share the evidence-gathering devices. They should be active in December or early January.

Franck expects having a camera he can personally maintain will be beneficial.

"It kind of streamlines your shift," he said. "It's one less thing to worry about."

The purchase will keep the department years ahead of a state deadline for body camera usage - and ahead of many suburbs that haven't yet embraced the technology.

What cameras can do

Body cameras typically are small, black boxes worn on the front of the uniform. They record video and audio, giving viewers an opportunity to see and hear what happened in any police encounter without exaggeration, mistruths or other human errors.

"They help us write better reports," Des Plaines Police Chief David Anderson said. "They help us make better criminal prosecutions."

The encrypted and tamper-proof videos also can be used to prove or disprove allegations of abuse or inappropriate behavior by police officers and help determine training needs, among other applications.

"We are getting an objective, neutral look at police-civilian interactions," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "The difficulty has been in getting officers to use them and to use them appropriately."

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last summer brought significant attention to body cameras, as have fatal shootings by police in Chicago and around the nation.

In the suburbs

Des Plaines police officers have been wearing manually activated body cameras since 2015. But the department only has 44 cameras - fewer than the roughly 80 sworn officers, community service officers and supervisors who use them while spread over three shifts.

That's why Franck and other officers have had to share.

Last week, though, the city council agreed to spend $74,225 and purchase 123 cameras from a Texas-based manufacturer.

That's enough for everyone who uses them now, as well as detectives and any other police personnel working in the community - about 100 people total.

"If they're wearing a vest, if they're wearing a uniform or carrying a gun, we feel it's important for them to have a camera," Anderson said.

Cops in Des Plaines were among the first in the suburbs to use body cameras. Many - but not all - suburban departments now have them, including those in Wheeling, Mount Prospect, Mundelein, Gurnee, Elgin, Aurora, Batavia and Bloomingdale. So do the Cook, DuPage, Kane and Lake county sheriff's offices.

State mandate

All Illinois police agencies must equip officers with body cameras by 2025 under a state law adopted early this year.

Deadlines are staggered by the size of the communities served by departments. Larger agencies are up first.

For departments in towns and counties with more than 500,000 people, body cameras must be in use by Jan. 1, 2022. Agencies serving more than 100,000 people must have cameras by 2023.

Agencies serving more than 50,000 must have body cameras by 2024. Finally, smaller departments have until Jan. 1, 2025, to get cameras.

Several suburbs already are working on it. Elk Grove Village police are expected to have body cameras by summer 2022; Naperville police started testing cameras in September and hope to have them departmentwide in 2022; Palatine police are researching options.

The ACLU's Yohnka believes police departments that have embraced transparency in other aspects of the job - say, releasing reports to the media or civilians through the Freedom of Information Act - will similarly embrace cameras.

Anderson doesn't need to be convinced. He called the cameras "one of the best technological advances in policing since I've been a police officer."

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  Des Plaines police are ordering 123 body-worn cameras like this one just above the belt of Officer Evan Franck. Brian Hill/
  Des Plaines police are purchasing more body cameras so officers won't have to share anymore. The cameras are recharged between uses. Brian Hill/
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