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A wise, wait-and-see investment / Our view: Body cameras are worth the investment

Gary Ballard stepped to the podium Feb. 4 to suggest the Glencoe City Council revisit its decision to allow the police department to acquire and use body cameras. Ballard’s request came weeks after the council OK’d a budget containing funding for the cameras and the policy governing use of the technology. Still, some citizens may appreciate Mr. Ballard’s concern for the prudent use of taxpayer dollars. But in this case, councilors were well-advised to politely decline his advice.
Ballard suggested the cost of maintaining body cameras that will be worn by police is too great. He distributed a Washington Post article chronicling a decision some police departments have made to stop using body worn cameras because of the high cost of storage and staff time to maintain the images officers record.
In Glencoe’s case, the city has a five-year contract with Axon, the largest manufacturer of body-worn cameras in the United States. The contract says the city will pay $12,135.50 in the first year of using the cameras. That costs covers initial setup, hardware, licensing and storage for year one. Police Chief Jim Raiter says years two through five will annually cost $6,610.50. This would include storage and licensing. After 30 months, all hardware is replaced free of charge.
Also during these five years, Raiter said, if any hardware fails, it is replaced for free.
We have previously stated the opinion body cameras are a good investment for the city. At a time when most everyone is carrying a video camera, police need to be able to demonstrate their proper, professional behavior when interacting with the public. Unlike on TV, police interaction with the public does not always take place in broad daylight where everyone can stop by, pull up a chair and watch and see how it all goes.
Imagine this scenario: A police officer pulls over a vehicle. The driver badly fails several field sobriety tests. Realizing an arrest is forthcoming, the driver becomes verbally abusive. During the arrest, the inebriated driver falls to the ground and claims the officer caused the fall with a push. The driver claims an injury in the fall and files a lawsuit against the city. Who do you believe?
Some might suggest the city allows its insurance provider to pay off the claim. That’s a convenient solution. But an insurance settlement won’t clear the sullied image of the community’s police department. It won’t convince the community the police officer is not the thug the officer was accused to be.
In a small community like Glencoe, the community’s trust in its police officers is vital. Given the work police officers perform, the cost of using body cameras is a wise investment.
Body cameras will assure the public officers are acting in good faith as they were trained. If they violate the public’s trust, the data the camera records will allow the department to provide the officer with corrective training, or in a far worse scenario, terminate the officer. We hope that scenario never comes to fruition.
If in five years Ballard’s concerns are realized, the city has the opportunity to allow the contract with Axon to lapse. We will see if the investment is worthwhile. We are confident it will be a wise investment.
The expensive part of body cameras will come if someone wants to see the images an officer recorded. That’s when the department will decide what is redacted from the images. It will likely be an expensive process that leaves the public frustrated the department is the gatekeeper of what people know or is withheld.

-jm