Although a town as small as North Riverside has some time before it must outfit its police officers with body cameras, we’re supportive of the village board’s approval last week to enter into a five-year lease with a body cam manufacturer to provide 21 body cams and the secure storage for video obtained from them.

Mandated earlier this year by the Illinois General Assembly to implement use of body cameras by Jan. 1, 2025, it’s inevitable that North Riverside would have made this expenditure, but it’s still not cheap.

The cost is about $40,000 a year for the next five years, a figure that also includes the purchase of new Tasers, the electronic weapons police use to apply less-than-lethal force, if a situation calls for it.

A number of the police department’s current inventory of Tasers are inoperable, and while there appear to be enough working to cover every shift, you don’t want to get to a point where officers have only their side arms as an option if events escalate to the point where officers may feel their lives are being endangered.

It’s unclear when the body cameras will be placed into service on officers working the streets, but it’s bound to take some time, if Brookfield is any example. That village approved buying body cameras in April and took possession of the equipment this summer.

Command staff are still working through the department’s policy for using body cameras and while officers know that there’s no way around having to equip themselves with the devices, this is a major change for them.

We feel body cameras, if they are used according to department policy, will benefit both police officers and the public, providing another window into how police encounters unfold. 

It is protection for police against false charges of force but also provide a layer of accountability for incidents where, until now, the only official accounts of how incidents unfold and how both the officers and citizens acted are written by the police officers themselves.

For those reasons, we think body cameras will prove useful in both criminal investigations and in cases where police need to be held accountable for their actions. It’s a lot of money, but well worth it.

Also well worth it was the North Riverside Village Board’s approval of an emergency expenditure to buy a new ambulance. The younger of the village’s two ambulances is 12 years old, and the backup is 20 years old.

Both ambulances have been maintenance problems for at least the last couple of years, but the village has put off buying a new one in the hopes of getting a grant to fund it.

That proved to be a risky strategy that has resulted in both ambulances being out of service at the same time. While mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns provide a backup in emergencies, in April, the fire chief was forced to get a loaner from Berwyn when both ambulances were down for a 24-hour period.

Given the fact that ambulance calls are what the fire department responds to the vast majority of the time, that’s really inexcusable. Fire department vehicles are the most expensive any village will buy and the planning for such expenditures has to be baked into budgeting.