McHenry County sheriff prepares to roll out body cameras next year

A state law passed earlier this year requires all Illinois police officers to wear a camera by 2025

A police officer is seen with a body camera on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.

By the end of 2022, each McHenry County sheriff’s deputies will be equipped with a body-worn camera following a new state law that requires each police officer in Illinois to wear a camera when interacting with the public by 2025.

The deadline for the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office – because the population it serves falls between 100,000 and 500,000 people – is Jan. 1, 2023.

“Our hope is to secure the equipment in the second quarter of 2022 and roll them out by the third quarter of 2022,” McHenry County Sheriff’s Chief of Operations John Miller said.

The sheriff’s office expects the purchase to cost $600,000, spokeswoman Emily Matusek said. Beyond the equipment itself, the sheriff’s office also will be adding additional costs to maintain the cameras and store data. Two additional employees also will be hired to manage the cameras.

Miller said they looking at their camera options, including a system similar to their current in-car cameras.

“When an officer makes a traffic stop, the video is immediately offloaded by cellular signal by squad car. We’re hoping we can get something similar from body camera solutions,” Miller said.

A police officer is seen with a body camera on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.

Crystal Lake is the most recent police department to roll out cameras after equipping officers with them Nov. 1.

“I see the implementation of a body-worn camera system as an opportunity to be transparent with our citizens,” Crystal Lake Police Chief James Black said. “I also see the system as a risk management tool for not only holding our officers accountable if necessary, but to also hold individuals who break the law accountable as well.”

While he says the cameras have benefits, they are expensive. Crystal Lake spent $700,000 for its body camera system, Black said.

“I believe some municipalities will have no problem complying with it while others that are financially strapped will struggle with meeting the timeline associated with this,” said Black, who was previously the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and in that capacity, lobbied against the legislation.

While the most costly parts of having body cameras relate to storage and employee costs, the cameras need to be replaced every few years, Black said.

“The cameras should be replaced every two to three years to ensure proper functionality and a minimum 12-hour battery life. In our current contract with Axon, we negotiated for our cameras to be replaced after two and half years and in year five, which is the last year of our agreement,” he said.

Requirements of the new law caused the Prairie Grove Police Department to move in the opposite direction. Chief Larry Canada said the department shelved the cameras, which they have worn for several years.

Canada said Prairie Grove bought the cheapest cloud storage plan and thinks requirements in the new law dictating when a camera needs to be on would cause them to run out of storage space quickly. Rather than fail to be in compliance with the law, he said, Prairie Grove will take the next few years to find out what body camera plan works for them.

According to the new law, cameras must be on during all law enforcement-related interactions.

A police officer is seen with a body camera on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.

Woodstock Police Chief John Lieb said his department found a solution to storage costs. Woodstock stores the data with its own computer system, eliminating reoccurring costs aside from one part-time employee.

“Now is a good time to implement body cameras because of the technology [improvements],” Lieb said.

Woodstock rolled out the cameras in 2017, a process Lieb said began in 2014 following racial justice protests in Ferguson, Missouri. The department received a grant from the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to help fund purchasing the equipment, Lieb said.

“We predicted at some point body cameras will be mandated,” he said.

County Board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, said body cameras are worth the cost for police departments.

“I don’t think [cost] is a valid reason [not to purchase cameras] because there’s so many grants that can help cover the cost,” she said.

Wegener said the sheriff’s office also is asking to use some of the county’s federal American Rescue Plan funding.

“That should be more than enough to cover not only the cameras, but the system they use,” Wegener said.

Despite the costs, the sheriff’s office thinks the cameras will be beneficial, Miller said.

“We are operating in an environment where the public expects transparency, and there’s a lot of misinformation about law enforcement in general,” Miller said. “A picture speaks a thousand words sometimes. It would just be another layer of transparency [to show] we’re doing the right thing.”

In the four years Woodstock officers have had cameras, Lieb said they have been full of positives and will continue to benefit both officers and the community as the rest of Illinois’ police departments purchase them in coming years.

“I think they will see the same level of success we saw once they get their programs up and running,” Lieb said. “I’m willing to say they will wish they had them sooner.”

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