The village of Brookfield is the first of the three villages the Landmark covers to put real dollars behind an initiative to equip its police officers with body cameras. Over the next five years, the village plans to spend about $100,000 for the devices, which will be worn by every cop on the street in addition to some extra cameras that can be used by command staff if they also respond to incidents.
Over the past couple of years, the subject of body cameras also has been broached by Riverside and North Riverside police, but the expense for getting a program off the ground largely has been the reason for not moving forward.
But, the time has come.
Body cameras are inevitably going to become part and parcel of the equipment worn by police officers, no different than Tasers, handcuffs and sidearms. In fact, it’s the deployment of those other items that make cameras an important part of contemporary policing.
From the police perspective, the cameras will provide them with a tool that documents an incident from an officer’s point of view, raw footage of how an incident unfolds from start to finish.
Police believe that in the vast majority of instances, body camera footage will support their officers’ narratives about decisions they made and the actions and statements of others involved, whether offenders or victims or witnesses.
For the public, the body cameras can provide a way to hold police officers accountable for their actions.
Both are compelling reasons to make body cameras a priority for local police departments. Riverside and North Riverside ought to follow Brookfield’s lead as soon as possible and implement a program.
While the cost is real, there appear to be some avenues to defer some of it. Brookfield, apparently, is seeking a grant from its risk management agency, which has an interest in the village having a strong case to present in court when citizens sue police over the use of force.
Township government, which frequently award grants to purchase equipment for public safety purposes, is another source of funds.
An annual line item of $20,000 to $25,000 for body cameras is no more than the villages pay for GIS systems, and its importance to both police and residents make it well worth paying that sum.
Of course, body cameras on their own are just a tool – ones that can be used poorly. Each police department will have to craft solid body camera use policies and hold their officers to those policies.
By and large, people in Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside have high regard for the police officers who serve them. Use of force complaints against officers locally are infrequent and the departments value training.
This isn’t about not trusting police to do the right thing unless there’s a camera around to keep them honest. Police wield enormous power and can apply deadly force against citizens if they choose to.
Given that power, police should expect that the public would want their actions to be as transparent as possible. This is a way for the police themselves to provide that higher level of transparency.