The technology which will record all DeKalb officers' actions while out on patrol and on duty is part of a continued effort amid local calls for police reform which gained steam following an arrest last August and continued throughout this year.
The technology which will record all DeKalb officers' actions while out on patrol and on duty is part of a continued effort amid local calls for police reform which gained steam following an arrest last August and continued throughout this year.

DeKALB – The DeKalb Police Department is one step closer to fully outfitting all officers with body-worn cameras.

The city council approved a contract for a five-year agreement with Axon Enterprises, Inc. to purchase body-worn cameras for $415,086, a sum that will cover the first five years of the program, according to city documents. A lower bid for the contract was offered by Panasonic iPro Sensing Solutions for $329,000, but city officials said the Axon cameras met the most criteria by both officers and residents polled in a survey.

"In short, Axon body cameras are simply the best," said Police Cmdr. Craig Woodruff, who oversaw the pilot period for testing cameras throughout this year.

Though council approved the contract unanimously Monday, the actual purchase still needs to be approved through the fiscal year 2021 budget, which has yet to be passed. City Manager Bill Nicklas said it's his hope that that will happen, which will allow time for the department to outfit and train officers with the cameras by the end of 2020.

Woodruff said the plan as it stands is to outfit the entire department, not just patrol officers.

"As soon as [council] say yes, I think I'm ordering them," he said. "The plan is full implementation, but obviously the council's going to discuss."

The technology which will record all DeKalb officers' actions while out on patrol and on duty is part of a continued effort amid local calls for police reform which gained steam following an arrest last August and continued throughout this year.

"Our community has been wrestling with a movement for social justice and protests in our streets and in rallies and before the council and the Human Relations Commission and so forth," said Nicklas.

In August of 2019, DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese was seen on video arresting Elonte McDowell, of Aurora, using what a police forensic doctor later described as a chokehold. McDowell was rendered unconscious during the arrest, which began as a traffic stop after police received a tip that McDowell was headed to DeKalb to sell marijuana.

The arrest – which was recorded on cell phone cameras and dashboard cameras from parked squad cars nearby – has been strongly condemned through the community, with continued calls to fire Weese.

Body cameras have long since been on the list of tools demanded of DeKalb police.

"One of the reasons is they're found to be a way for everyone to be accountable or in front of the camera," Nicklas said.

How they work

The devices clip on to an officer's chest and capture video and audio while the officer is patrolling.

The cameras come with a button right in the middle that officers need to press in order for the recording to begin saving, which will either be in a cloud server.

The purpose of the save button is to help weed out unnecessary downtime data that could take up storage space in what is expected to be a massive amount of data needing to be stored, saved for the required statute of limitations time, or redacted and passed on to the court system or for Freedom of Information Act requests.

When the officer hits the button the recording will begin to save, including the previous two minutes before the button being pressed just in case, Woodruff has said.

A body camera's field of vision depends on the model, Woodruff said and, unlike the squad car cameras, doesn't include much peripheral vision beyond a few feet in either direction.

When it comes to reviewing recorded footage, the goal is to ensure the video reflects most accurately what the officer and persons involved can see and hear.

DeKalb police began piloting cameras last year, to assess field readiness and other technology needs.

Woodruff said the Axon model is a common one among police departments throughout the country, and that model was chosen using informed opinions from officers and the public alike.

In a survey conducted by prior to the pilot program in conjunction with Northern Illinois University, about 260 responses were "generally supportive of their use, provided that the digital evidence would be safely stores and readily accessible," documents show.

During the pilot program, five officers of different ranks and shift assignments tried the cameras, and Axon was chosen was the preference.

Batteries on each camera lasts through a 12-hour shift, documents show, and can link to a hand-held device such as a cell phone to view and categorize videos.

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