Rockford, Illinois News

Talks about police body cameras begin at City Hall

ROCKFORD — The Rockford City Council’s Finance & Personnel Committee voted unanimously Monday to accept recommendations to equip police officers with body cameras.

The vote sends the matter to the full council for discussion.

Although officials have not announced how the city would pay for cameras, the Community Relations Commission citied numerous positive studies about their effectiveness.

“Studies of certain cities have shown a significant decrease in use of force incidents, reductions in officer complaints, and improved civility following implementation of (body-worn cameras), although not every city has realized the same results,” Mayor Tom McNamara said in a memo to aldermen.

In Las Vegas, the police department showed a 40.7-percent reduction in the percentage of officers who generated at least one use of force report in the treatment group (with body cameras) compared to the control group (without cameras) over the duration of the study, and that cameras may deescalate aggression or have a “civilizing” effect on the nature of police-citizen encounters, the memo said.

In Rialto, California, police saw a 60-percent reduction in use-of-force incidents following camera deployment and an 88-percent reduction in the number of citizen complaints.

Spakane, Washington, saw similar numbers. The 2017 study showed a 78-percent reduction in citizen complaints and a 39-percent reduction in use-of-force incidents.

Cameras have also shown positive results in Mesa, Arizona.

Ald. Venita Hervey, D-5, questioned the memo, saying while she supports cameras, she’s concerned about installing them without making other changes.

“These cameras can be a very respective tool for law enforcement,” Hervey said “They can help build trust, and I think it helps with police accountability. But if you don’t have underlying policy, they’ll mean absolutely nothing. All it will do is vindicate what a police officer did. So, if your policy says you can use a chokehold, that you can kick people in the head, that you can call people derogatory names–if those types of behaviors are not prohibited and actionable, all those cameras are doing is validating mistreatment.”

Hervey said cameras alone could make some members of the community feel more violated.

“I am very worried that we are going to use these body cameras and some of these other superficial policy changes without changing some of the underlying structural defects that results in this tension and some of the problems we have between communities of color and police departments,” she said.

McNamara agreed.

“Alderman, I think you’re absolutely, right,” McNamara said. “We can’t think that body cams are some panacea.”

If the city finds a funding source, the Rockford Police Department will join the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office, which started using the devices this year. Each deputy and corrections officer is equipped with a camera.

The county financed the devices over five years, a $2.4 million agreement that includes unlimited data storage and an opt-out clause after the first year.


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