A number of interested parties, including several state lawmakers, appeared before the Illinois Judiciary Committee to address issues regarding police officers wearing body cameras: from cost to legality to public disclosure of the videos. The concept has been considered for a number of years, but with advancing technology and the national spotlight examining situations such as what occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, the idea appears to be gaining steam.

The purported benefits of police officers wearing body cameras are twofold: first, to deter frivolous claims of police misconduct; second, to deter actual police misconduct. Both are stated benefits arising from the existence of an audio-video record of police interactions with suspects, arrestees, and witnesses.

Despite its apparent usefulness, the issues raised by such a policy are voluminous. The Illinois Association of Police Chiefs (IAPC) supports the measure but raised issues with the Illinois Supreme Court striking down the Eavesdropping Act. The IAPC President does not want to spend money, implement a policy, and train officers, only to let the legislature render all their efforts illegal or worthless with a new eavesdropping bill, which is currently being debated in Springfield. Other issues include public disclosure of videos, when to release videos, if ever, and to whom to release videos, how to deal with minor offenders and victims, whether videos will discourage witnesses from cooperating, if the recording should be mandatory or discretionary, how to store the data and for how long to store it, and, of course, how to pay for it.

The matter is pending in many states and towns across the nation, and it remains unclear what the Illinois legislature may do to implement and/or regulate the use of police body cameras.

William C. Westfall

Author: William C. Westfall