News Local/State

Champaign Council Unanimously Backs Body Cams For Police

In this Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, a Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration in Los Angeles.

In this Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, a Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration in Los Angeles. Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Champaign Police expect to be wearing body cameras by January. The Champaign City Council unanimously approved purchasing them for all 125 its officers Tuesday.  Champaign Police say the plan will increase transparency and accountability, and protect both the public and officers against false accusations.

Saying they’ll also produce evidence to fight lawsuits and complaints against officers, Police Chief Anthony Cobb says the cameras will give them a chance to prove they’re doing their job.

“We’d like to be able to show and document that," he said. "Studies have shown that having the body cameras makes it safer for the officer, makes it safer for the public. It puts both eyes on an even playing field, so to say.  I think the mayor said it best when you've got that third party observer, just quietly sitting there, monitoring both sides’ behavior, and that’s what we want there.”

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen says the technology for the cameras is always changing, and it will cost the city to stay on top of it.

"And so as we invest in their newest version that's coming out next quarter, they're working on the next version that we're going to need to buy," she said.

Council member Michael LaDue says accounts of a crime scene can always vary, but the cameras can hold everyone to a higher standard.

“This introduces an element of objectivity that fosters, or will hopefully foster, trust and improve communications between people in power to do police work, or the people they serve," he said.

Council member Tom Bruno compared to the demand for video footage from police cams to the need to review instant replay in sports.

"We not only want to see one view of it, we want to see seven or eight views of it, and have the audio, and have it in 4K high definition quality," he said.  "It will be expensive and cumbersome, and we'll probably have so much more data than we need for many of life's problems, but once in a while we'll have that treasure trove of data."

There were no comments from the public in a thinly attended city council study session.

The 125 body cameras are one portion of a $550-thousand funding request that also includes new cameras for inside police cars, and hiring a digital service technician for handling all the recorded data. A final contract is expected in four to six weeks.

Champaign would join Rantoul and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department as the only police agencies in the county with the body cameras.