SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers in central Illinois’ tiny DeWitt County have been wearing body cameras since December, but it wasn’t until a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August that other departments around the state took notice.
Now, like agencies across the country, Illinois departments including Chicago and Springfield are making moves to equip their officers with the cameras or giving the devices serious consideration, with some asking DeWitt for advice.
“We got a few calls before (the shooting), but after that we got calls from departments all over Illinois,” said DeWitt County Chief Deputy Mike Walker.
Proponents of the cameras that are attached to the officers’ uniforms say the devices protect people who are arrested or in custody from abuse by officers. They also say the cameras would protect the officers from unfair accusations of police brutality and misconduct.
Police in Ferguson have started wearing them.
But some opponents say the cameras could malfunction or could invade innocent people’s privacy.
Walker said the cameras allow the department to see entire incidents to get “a true and accurate record of what happened.” But he added that the cameras could “absolutely” help departments punish and weed out bad police officers.
Walker said he’s confident that the cameras, which he said cost about $18,000, have already saved the county money by preventing lawsuits, including one from a jail inmate.
The man was going sue, alleging he was beaten but changed his mind after being told about the cameras, Walker said.
In Springfield, Mayor Mike Houston said he wants to allocate up to $200,000 in the next budget year for the cameras. The Bloomington Police Department has also had preliminary discussions about body cameras, the Herald-Review reported.
And in Chicago, the department is “in the process of formulating a pilot program for body cameras,” spokesman Martin Maloney said Wednesday.
Superintendent Garry McCarthy said at a news conference this week that the cameras would protect officers from false allegations.
The idea could also likely draw support from critics of the department, which has struggled with a longstanding reputation of police misconduct and brutality.
Attorney Laura Morask is representing a Chicago officer who denies charges that he shoved a gun down a suspect’s throat. The alleged incident was not recorded.
Morask said that while she thinks the cameras could help officers in some incidents, she has some concerns. Specifically, she suggested that if the cameras were broken or were not working properly, the footage could unfairly cast suspicion on officers.
Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, also had hesitations. While the cameras could be “a benefit to both the police and the community,” he said, he also worries that the cameras could be used to conduct surveillance on people who have done nothing wrong unless strict rules are put in place about when officers can use the cameras.
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