Illinois House considers increasing traffic penalties to fund grants for body, dash cameras

Illinois legislators are advocating for additional patrol cameras for law enforcement agencies by adding surcharge fees to traffic violations or guilty pleas for criminal offenses. 

An amendment to House Bill 3911 is currently pending in the House of Representatives. It would add a $6 surcharge fee to fund grants to law enforcement departments to purchase body cameras for their officers. The increase in revenue will also allocate funding to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.

The bill has already established a grant program for agencies to receive vehicle cameras and the proposed amendment would add body cameras to the program. 

State Sen. Bill Haine, D-56, and State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-92, introduced the amendment earlier this month and commented on the events in Ferguson, Missouri, in their remarks.

“I hope that the tragic recent events in Ferguson … may serve as a catalyst to enact legislation that protects our brave police officers as much as it does the public,” Booth said in a press release. 

If the amendment to HB3911 were to pass, law enforcement agencies that received grants for body cameras would have to follow specific guidelines for their use. 

Police officers would turn their cameras on when engaged with a member of the public and their agency would be required to store footage from the body cameras for a two-year period. This stored footage must be made available upon the request of the state’s attorney, or any officers or civilians that were recorded.

While the body cameras could raise privacy concerns, University Police Department Deputy Chief Skip Frost said that the opinion of the public is always taken into account in his department.

“There were a lot of concerns when we started up with the security camera program at the University,” said Frost. “But at the same time, we’re very responsive to the community as well. If the community felt that it was necessary or pertinent that officers wear those body cameras, we would certainly consider it.”

Deputy Director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board Larry Smith said he believes making body cameras more accessible to police in Illinois could improve the relationship officers have with the public. 

“I think that there is a strong probability that the deployment of these body cameras on street officers will go a long ways to alleviating a lot of complaints against police officers and … extreme or excessive use of force by officers,” Smith said. “These cameras will record what is happening from the officer’s point of view.”

Smith said that if the proposed amendment were to pass, the board, which provides basic training curriculum for six police academies and 15 mobile in-service training units across the state, would likely make curriculum for the new cameras available for their trainees. However, Smith said, since the amendment has not yet passed, this could be a long way away.

The use of body cameras is still relatively new to law enforcement. In a recent survey by the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, 75 percent of the participating departments said they did not use body cameras. 

Frost said that while the University Police Department already has modern patrol car cameras and has reviewed the technology of body cameras, they do not currently use them in the field. The department does record audio and video during all of their traffic stops.

“We are very well-supported by the University, but at the same time if we tried to put a body camera on every single sworn officer we had, that would be a pretty sizable price tag,” said Frost. “Right now, we’re just not in a position to do that.”

If the amendment to HB3911 passes and body cameras are made more readily available to Illinois law enforcement, Frost said that he would expect UIPD to talk about applying for a grant for the equipment.

“Certainly we would consider it, but we have to make sure the product is going to suit our needs and is going to be well received by the community as well,” said Frost.

Josh can be reached at [email protected]