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WIU Police Testing Body Camera

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The Office of Public Safety at Western Illinois University won a body camera valued at about $900 at a police conference. Now the agency is deciding whether to outfit all its officers with a camera. 

“The first issue you look at is funding. We have 25 officers. If we are going to outfit the department, you would like each officer to have one and then have a few in reserve because at any given time a camera may be down for malfunction or camera failure,” Director Scott Harris said.

Implementing the system would also require the purchase of software needed to download and store the footage.

Harris said he is eager to see if the federal government or state legislature provide any additional avenues for revenue for how police can purchase these cameras.

Harris said his department has tested the camera for a few months.  The officers who have tried it have identified several benefits and disadvantages to this particular model.

This particular model attaches to an officer's chest or gun belt. This doesn’t always provide the best view because an officer's hands can get in the way and the camera does not follow the movement of the officer's head.

“It moves around on the body so some of the video we looked at, we were looking at a sky and that’s not what the officer was looking at,” Harris said.

Harris said he might look at other camera models that can be worn on a hat or helmet, eye glasses, or  on an officer's ear similar to a Bluetooth device.

But overall Harris said the model they’ve been testing is easy to use, has good video quality, and records at the touch of a button.

"The video capability is pretty good for daylight,” Harris said. “For nighttime, when you walk in from the outside to a dimly-lit building, it takes a while for the camera to re-focus itself so those are some issues we really want to look at."

Some cameras do offer low-light infrared focus that magnifies what can be seen at night. He said he’s concerned about have video that shows more detail that what the officer’s naked eye can see.

“If the officer couldn’t see it, why would he have a recording that shows something he couldn’t see? Because that wouldn’t be fair to anyone watching it because the first thing they would say is, 'Well I could see it,' and then it’s hard to explain to them that yes but the officer couldn’t because it is enhanced because it’s the infrared option on the camera,” Harris said.

Western Illinois University’s police squad cars are already equipped with cameras and officers wear microphones so traffic stops can be recorded. That footage is then turned over the state’s attorney for use in any potential court cases that might arise.

Harris said he see the body camera as an extension of Western’s current system.

“Studies have shown that it lends more accountability and transparency to the agency. Your citizen’s complaints goes down, your officer’s use of force goes down,” Harris said.

Harris said his department is only testing the camera and has not committed to purchasing any more.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.