Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Body cams not in current plans for Rockford Police

ROCKFORD — As some area officers are now using body-worn cameras, there is no plan to roll out them out in the Rockford Police Department.

It is not that officials have no use for body cams. The per-device cost of about $400 or more that has larger departments like Rockford shying away.

“The initial cost and the annual recurring expenses do not make it a feasible at this time,” Chief Dan O’Shea said.

Those recurring costs are for data storage the city is not in position to incur. For Rockford, the expense would be a hefty one. A typical camera captures about three hours of footage on an eight-hour shift. That means each camera’s data could cost roughly $1,500 every year. There are vendors that provide cameras for free, but data charges could still approach $450,000. And with the city facing a spending hole of $10 million, much of which was piled on by the state, the extra cost isn’t warranted.

There is federal funding available specifically for body cameras but Rockford has not received any. The city’s most recent grant was an award for $625,000, which helped the police department hire 17 new officers to increase its rank-and-file to 302. Five hires were funded by the grant.

The Beloit Police Department, as part of the city’s $600,000 capital improvement plan, rolled out cameras for its 59 officers and command staff this week.

Body-worn camera usage has been a hot-button topic in recent years, in light of high-profile officer-involved shootings. Some were captured by smartphones and drew nationwide concern about use of force.

Departments who have purchased the devices say they aim to strengthen transparency. Beloit’s cameras are activated manually, when an officer turns on squad car lights, deploys a taser or activates a car’s rifle trigger.

The camera systems collect a certain amount of footage prior to an activation event, meaning that footage captured will precede the time at which an officer or trigger event turns them on.

The Freeport Police Department uses 16 cameras at a cost of $14,000 per year.

“Body-worn cameras are certainly an effective tool used by some law enforcement agencies,” O’Shea said.

Although Rockford officers are not equipped with cameras, the city spent $310,000 on a gunfire detection system called ShotSpotter that alerts 911 dispatchers and officers when sensors detect gunfire. It also used $42,000 from the police budget to purchase 30 Tasers. The department now has 85 stun guns, enough for every on-duty officer. R.