As part of a criminal justice reform bill recently signed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, every police officer in the state will be required to wear a body camera by 2025. HB 3653 is huge in size and scope. At a whopping 764 pages, the bill includes not only the body camera mandate for police, but also ends cash bail, and creates a certification program for police. 

At its core, the bill aims to hold police officers and citizens accountable during their interactions. HB 3653 is the state’s response to recent civil unrest and the public’s call for more transparency when it comes to its relationship and dealings with the police. Among the many elements of the bill, the ambitious body camera mandate will undoubtedly impact the public records landscape in Illinois for years to come.

Consensus for Bodycam Use

There are differences of opinion on various parts of the bill between those in law enforcement and police reform advocates, but there seems to be general consensus on the need for body cameras. High-profile cases involving the police over the last several years have garnered notable and consequential media attention. Body cameras may help resolve issues before they arise; and when they do arise, the altercation is captured in real-time and can be reviewed.

Police officers view bodycams as a tool to be used in the field which allows them to collect additional evidence as well as protect themselves from unfounded accusations or complaints. Police reform advocates see body cameras as a way to hold law enforcement officers accountable and protect citizens’ civil liberties. 

Concerns about Resources

Requiring all police officers in the state of Illinois to wear body cameras is a huge undertaking and carries a significant price tag once all costs are factored in. A 2018 Police Executive Forum report found that it could cost as little as $100 to initially purchase a body camera, but storage and other operational costs could increase the total to around $1,000 per camera. Costs for body cameras vary depending on geographic location as well. For example, police in Springfield, Illinois pay about $1,000 per body camera while Phoenix, Arizona law enforcement agencies pay nearly $2,900 per camera.

Mandating a body camera for every Illinois police officer will substantially increase the amount of available video footage and, relatedly, the volume of public requests for the footage. There is not yet a clear indication of how much footage will be available to the public. There will likely be exemptions about what can be released to protect the rights of innocent bystanders — and requirements around redactions which brings with it a whole new set of issues, as recently learned in this California case which left CA agencies unable to recover the costs of video redaction

Police departments must evaluate how to best handle the influx of footage and FOIA requests while balancing existing resources. Smaller departments may especially struggle with this if there are only one or two staff members dedicated to handling public records requests. Processing public requests can be time-consuming in and of itself; adding redaction and editing requirements to the process will create additional strain on department resources. 

Incentives for Police Department Compliance

Given the massive costs associated with body cameras, many police departments must determine how to comply with the body camera mandate with already limited budgets. Some smaller municipalities simply do not have the means to comply with the mandate and would be seen as noncompliant with the new law. Rather than penalize those departments that do not comply, the bill includes incentives for those that do.

Under the Law Enforcement Camera Grant Act, departments that comply would be given preference for grant funding. This would allow police departments to recoup reimbursement costs of $895 per body camera and $5,752 per dashboard camera. Costs for installation and data storage, however, are not reimbursable. 

Important Questions to Consider

As Illinois police departments look to the future, there is much to consider about the body camera mandate. 

  • How will police departments fund additional body cameras so that every officer has one?
  • Will police departments be penalized for noncompliance with the new bill? If so, what are the penalties?
  • How will the bill impact police department resources and footage review policies?
  • Will all body camera-worn footage be available to the public?
  • Will the body camera mandate make Illinois safer?

Looking to the Future

Though costs and resources are ongoing issues to be resolved, police departments will undoubtedly have an increased number of body cameras in the field by 2025. Police departments who proactively prepare for the state’s body camera mandate will fare much better than those who do not. Part of that preparation includes using the latest technology and platforms to strike a balance between compliance and efficiency.

Following the implementation of body cameras, the next step for Illinois police departments is to manage the request process and create efficiencies where possible. To balance request management and maximum compliance, agencies can find support in workflow automation solutions. GovQA’s scalable technology simplifies and supports an agency’s changing needs with secure public records solutions.

To learn more about GovQA’s secure, automated, and customized public records solutions, visit GovQA.com or contact us here.

The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, live roundtables, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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