Ill. police say first year of wearing body cameras has gone smoothly
"When someone does a good job, the officers don’t typically come forward, but other officers will say ‘Hey, why don’t you look at this person’s body camera, they did a really good job’"
By Megan Jones
AURORA, Ill. — Looking back on 2022, Aurora Police Sgt. Edgar Gallardo said he believes the introduction of body cameras for officers this year has improved the agency, strengthening criminal cases and even boosting morale from officer to officer.
Gallardo points to several instances where the cameras have helped police with a case, like when two officers were chasing someone and were so focused on capturing the individual they didn’t notice he threw a gun away while running. While reviewing the body cam footage, however, police said they were able to see the discarding of the firearm.
“In human nature, we’re not going to be able to capture everything with our eyes, but that camera is so great and I love having them,” Gallardo said.
A new state law now requires all law enforcement agencies in Illinois to have body cameras by 2025, but some local departments are already ahead of the curve, including Aurora and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office.
In Kendall County, Yorkville police officers began wearing body cameras in November and Oswego police officers began wearing cameras on Dec. 12.
“The implementation of body-worn cameras is an example of the police department’s commitment to being transparent with our community,” Oswego Deputy Chief Jason Bastin said in a statement.
In Aurora, officials began talking about body cameras for police officers in 2019, but were not set to start the process of obtaining the cameras until 2022 or 2023. After the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, the department decided to speed up the process of purchasing cameras after many residents asked for more transparency from police.
The department purchased 315 body cameras, which were officially launched for all officers on Feb. 1.
Each officer underwent eight hours of training, reviewing the rules of when to turn the camera on, its various functions, how to download the footage and how to review it through the cloud, Gallardo said.
“Similar to our squad cars, its always recording and the hard drive is buffering itself and can record up to 18 hours without it having to actually be activated, depending on each specific body camera,” Gallardo said.
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The department also uses the same company, Axon, for its squad car cameras, so if an officer turns on his vehicle’s lights and siren responding to an emergency, the body cameras are automatically triggered to turn on. Gallardo said this is one less thing an officer has to worry about as they are pulling up to a scene.
Under state law, the cameras must be turned on whenever an on-duty, uniformed officer is responding to a call for service or is engaging in any law enforcement-related activity.
By law, Gallardo said they are required to tell people they are being recorded in situations where they’d expect privacy, for example at a hospital. If there is a domestic situation, they have to ask if they can identify the victim on camera and will stop recording if asked, he said.
New features on the body cameras also allow supervisors to tap into an officer’s camera remotely to get a live stream of the scene of an incident. In instances where an officer has called for help, but then isn’t able to continue transmitting over the radio, police can tap in and see what is going on and pull up the GPS coordinates of the camera.
“There are so many capabilities and if someone comes in and says this officer was rude to me, we are now able to review the footage and see ...,” Gallardo said. “It’s good for accountability purposes.”
The department also purchased additional software that assigns supervisors random footage to review to identify any potential training topics and make sure the cameras are being used correctly.
The cameras have even helped boost morale, he said.
“It continues to show we are doing our job,” Gallardo said. “We are treating people with professionalism. When someone does a good job, the officers don’t typically come forward, but other officers will say ‘hey, why don’t you look at this person’s body camera, they did a really good job’ and it's helping them build each other up.”