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On June 2, the Evanston Police Department launched a pilot in which nine police officers and two supervisors started wearing body cameras to test the reliability and effectiveness of the equipment and to address any procedural and technical issues that may arise. The pilot is scheduled to last through the summer, after which the EPD, with community input, will assess the pilot, said EPD Commander Joe Dugan.
The EPD in partnership with the Northwestern University Police Department received a grant of $140,000 to implement the pilot and to use toward buying body-worn cameras for the police force. As part of the grant, EPD was required to prepare a draft policy regulating the use of body-worn cameras. The draft policy has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Deputy Chief Jay Parrott and Cmdr. Dugan described the equipment and the draft policy regulating the use of the cameras and showed five videos recorded by the body cameras to three alderman and about 20 community members on July 24 at the Civic Center. One of the videos showed police taking down a suspect attempting to flee the scene; police found two handguns in the suspect’s vehicle. Another showed police officers’ response, after gun shots were fired a short distance from them.
Body-worn cameras better document what happens during encounters between police officers and the public; they improve the collection of evidence and record statements made by persons on the scene; they strengthen police officers’ performance and accountability; and enhance transparency, said Cmdr. Dugan. He added, “Studies have shown that the presence of a body-worn camera has a positive effect on the behavior of both officers and citizens during encounters.”
Deputy Chief Parrott said the availability of videos provides a record of how police handled an incident and helps resolve complaints made regarding a police officer. He added that the recordings of suspect’s statements on the scene were helpful in prosecuting several cases.
Officers assigned a body-worn camera are required to keep it turned on in “buffering mode” at all times while they are on-duty and are responding to calls for service or engaged in law enforcement-related activities. They are required to activate the system to “event mode” to record an entire incident in certain situations, including routine calls for service, responses to a 911 call, foot and vehicle pursuits, high-risk situations, routine searches of a detainee, and crime scene searches and processing.
If a camera is activated from buffering mode to event mode, it will automatically store a recording of the 30 seconds prior to the time it was switched to event mode.
The Evanston Police Department policy requires officers to announce they are equipped with a body-worn camera at the start of every recording or as soon as reasonably possible after the recording is initiated.
A victim, witness, or community member who reports a crime can request the camera be turned off. A police officer, however, may continue to record if exigent circumstances exist, or the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the individual may be involved in a crime.
Officers are required to turn off the body-worn camera in locations where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists, unless it is required for capturing evidence or the officer reasonably believes it to serve a proper police purpose.
There are many other provisions provided under Illinois law and the EPD’s policies regulating the use of the cameras.
Deputy Chief Parrott said the camera will automatically shift to event mode if an officer activates a Taser, and this will also activate all cameras within 30 feet. The camera will also activate if a police officer hits a rifle release in his or her vehicle, or if a vehicle’s emergency lights are turned on.
The EPD’s system uploads the videos to the cloud on evidence.com, which is a service that stores and manages the videos, and makes them easily retrievable. Since June 2, EPD has uploaded 1,700 videos. If all police officers were outfitted with cameras there would be 10 times that, said Cmdr. Dugan.
Responding to FOI Requests for the videos can be time consuming because witnesses and certain other people must be redacted from the videos. Chicago has one full-time person on staff for every 100 cameras just to comply with FOI requests, said Cmdr. Dugan.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “Part of the reason we are here today is to get feedback to see if this is something people think is valuable and the procedures make sense. My sense is, ‘so far so good on the technology side’. We want to get feedback on the community’s perspectives.”
City Council will discuss this as part of the 2018 budget, he said.
Deputy Chief Parrott said, “We want to be very transparent in this process, because we realize this is an important step for the police department to take, and the City. But we do want to be sure we’re policing the best possible way we can and that we’re maintaining national standards in policing. Body cameras are becoming the best practice and the standard.”
The EPD is asking residents to participate in a short survey about body-worn camera implementation that can be found on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org. Residents may also provide input by email to the EPD.