Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

The day after Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Senate Bill 1304, Police Chief Richard Eddington, Police Commander Joseph Dugan and Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar discussed with members of the media possible ramifications of that law on the City and the residents of Evanston. The law, which goes into effect in January, does not mandate the use of body-worn cameras but mandates regulations if a municipality chooses to use them.

Potential invasion of privacy and the cost of the cameras – including hardware, software and personnel – will be weighed against the additional police accountability the cameras might afford, said Chief Eddington.

A police officer might be outfitted with a body-worn camera for about $1,000, Chief Eddington said, adding, “The issue is the storage of data.” He said comparing the amount of data collected from in-car cameras and stationary cameras in the downtown area and other areas to what would be collected from body-worn cameras is like comparing a can of soda to an oil tank.

The Police Department would require additional personnel to redact data about non-relevant persons – block out images, etc. – from videos turned over in response to Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests, said Chief Eddington. “It’s labor-intensive to redact,” he said. “In terms of money – not including information technology staff – the first year it would cost about $300,000,” he said.

The Police Department’s annual budget is about $26 million, said Chief Eddington.

“Privacy issues in the City of Evanston are always of paramount importance. As we wade through these issues of privacy, this is going to be extremely difficult,” Chief Eddington said. He recalled the many objections raised when the City wished to install stationary cameras along Dodge Avenue.

“This [discussion] will be larger if the City elects to have body-worn cameras. I am looking forward to public discussion to get a sense of the entire community’s opinion of the matter,” Chief Eddington said.

Mr. Farrar said, “It’s going to call for a lot of cooperation. The chief and I and other members of his team will work out a way to conceptualize it. We also have to see how that works under FOIA.”

Commander Dugan said the Illinois Standards and Training Board will have to come up with new training policies and regulations. He added that the drafters of the legislation “had made some accommodation for FOIA. They listened to the chiefs of police” to take “significant steps” to safeguard privacy.

The police do not want to have neighbors filing FOIAs to see what happened at the houses next door, said Chief Eddington.

“We’ve had almost 20 years of dash cams [dashboard cameras] in Illinois. This does help. Once people realize they’re on camera, it has a calming effect.”

Yet, said Chief Eddington, to many, the costs of the cameras – financial and otherwise – may seem too steep.

“Are we willing to trade what many will see as an invasion of privacy for individual police accountability?” Chief Eddington asked. “If we do trade,” he continued, “what else are we trading? That is, what else could that $300,000 be spent for?”

Cameras, said the Chief, “don’t fix everything. They’re not a panacea. The camera provides another stream of information for us to consider.” The effectiveness of a body camera, he said, lies in its being an “unbiased evidence-collector. … It started out with police accountability, but the evidence can be used for the benefit of the prosecution.”

Asked whether he has an opinion about body-worn cameras, Chief Eddington said, “I’m going to surmise that, over time, public expectation will drive this issue: Does the public expect there to be footage or not?”

The new law also covers regulations for police stop-and-frisk actions and officer-involved shootings.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...