By Kim Geiger and Jeremy Gorner
Illinois drivers will pay an extra $5 fee on traffic tickets to help equip police officers with body cameras under a sweeping new law Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Wednesday as the state tries to address recent controversies over police use of force.
Hailed by lawmakers who passed it as the most comprehensive body camera law in the country, the measure sets statewide standards for use of the cameras, expands police officer training to include topics like use of force and requires an independent investigation of all officer-involved deaths. It also bans the use of chokeholds and creates a database of officers who have been fired or resigned due to misconduct.
The legislation comes after a series of officer-involved deaths generated momentum behind a nationwide push for recording officer encounters with the public.
"Having these body cameras is going to completely open up an eye to the general public as it relates to what police actually deal with on a day-to-day basis," said Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat who sponsored the bill. "There may be occurrences where there was malfeasance, there may be occurrences where there weren't. Now, there won't be a question."
Police departments have been considering the use of body cameras for some time, but doing so is expensive and the lack of uniform standards had left departments with legal questions about how and when they should be used.
The new law does not require police departments to use the cameras, but those that do so will have to follow state rules, including a requirement that officers keep their cameras on when conducting law enforcement activities. Officers will be allowed to turn the camera off when talking to a confidential informant, or at the request of a victim or witness. In addition, recordings generally will not be subject to the state's open records law, unless they contain potential evidence in a use-of-force incident, the discharge of a weapon or a death.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, whose attorneys were involved in the negotiations for the new law, praised the body camera rules as a balance between transparency and oversight of law enforcement, and the protection of personal privacy.
"Most of all, we're not going to have a different standard here than we have in Champaign, than we do in Peoria, than we do in Chicago," ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said.
The cost of body cameras and new training will be covered by a $5 extra fee on criminal and traffic offenses that result in a guilty plea or conviction. The fee won't apply to parking, registration or pedestrian offenses. Legislative staff did not know how much money the fee would raise. Most provisions of the bill, including the new fee, take effect Jan. 1.
The Law Enforcement Training Standards Board will draw up standards for body camera use that meet minimum guidelines in the bill and will use a competitive grant process to distribute the body camera and training money to police departments. A similar system is currently used to dole out grant money for dashboard cameras.
The Chicago Police Department has been testing body cameras on its own with a trial program in one district. CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said city officials played a role in crafting the new legislation and the department plans to apply for state grant money to buy more body and car cameras and necessary technology to expand its program. The department also has a federal grant application pending with the Department of Justice.
Sponsoring Rep. John Anthony, a Plainfield Republican and former police officer, praised the new police database created by the bill. It will allow chiefs of police to search the work history of potential hires and learn if they have been dismissed or resigned during a misconduct investigation. That will prevent rogue officers from jumping from one department to another to avoid disciplinary action, Anthony said.
Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, cautioned that the bill will not necessarily prevent violent encounters between police and the communities they serve, but gives departments tools to better train officers and respond to incidents.
"You're never going to pass a law that's going to prevent an event from happening," Raoul said. "What you can do is provide tools for law enforcement to better train their officers. ... It's not just about recording an incident. It's about, how do we use that to better approach a similar incident in the future."
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