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updated: 1/4/2017 7:19 PM

Body camera debate continues for DuPage deputies

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  • Liz Chaplin said she was one of two DuPage County Board members who supported body cameras when Sheriff John Zaruba first brought them up in 2015.

    Liz Chaplin said she was one of two DuPage County Board members who supported body cameras when Sheriff John Zaruba first brought them up in 2015.

  • County board member Grant Eckhoff, who also serves as chairman of the judicial and public safety committee, said he doesn't think there's a great need for body cameras in DuPage County.

    County board member Grant Eckhoff, who also serves as chairman of the judicial and public safety committee, said he doesn't think there's a great need for body cameras in DuPage County.

 
 

Some county officials say they hope to reopen talks about buying body cameras for DuPage sheriff's deputies in the wake of Sunday's officer-involved fatal shooting of a 17-year-old near Villa Park.

Such a camera, they say, would have helped authorities determine exactly what happened in the moments before the deputy, who authorities have not publicly identified, shot and killed Trevon Johnson while responding to a domestic violence call.

The deputy told investigators he believed Johnson had a knife. Johnson's family said he was unarmed. Three 911 calls placed by family members at the scene seem to indicate the teen had a knife -- at least before the deputy arrived.

Other county board members, though, said Wednesday they need more information about cost benefits and the need for cameras before moving forward.

In 2015, Sheriff John Zaruba unsuccessfully asked for body cameras and updated squad car cameras during a budget presentation to members of the county board's finance committee.

The next year the sheriff's office asked for money just to purchase updated squad car cameras, but no money was made available.

"We have to begin somewhere, and since there wasn't anything allocated the prior year, we reduced the request to fix what's breaking," said Chief James Kruse of the sheriff's office. "We were asked if we can phase in (new in-car cameras). That's where the discussions ended."

Kruse said some of the in-car cameras are about 16 years old and need to be replaced. He said the sheriff agreed to use asset forfeiture money to buy replacements, but it could take five years to replace all the in-car cameras.

Body cameras are now a second priority, he said.

"That seems to be the only avenue we have right now," Kruse said. "In light of everything that occurred (Sunday), I think it would be prudent for the county board and the office to have discussions about this."

County board Chairman Dan Cronin issued a statement Wednesday saying the county is pursuing body camera technology through "a very thorough discussion led by the state's attorney with the sheriff, the clerk of the circuit court and the DuPage County Chiefs of Police Association."

"Although our county board members have various opinions on this, my belief is we have a need for reliable video evidence in the prosecution of criminal cases in DuPage County," he said.

But Liz Chaplin said she was one of only two board members who supported body cameras when Zaruba first raised the issue.

"Any technology we can use that helps make the job of the police officers easier, I totally support," she said. "I think the body camera would have given us a little more insight into what happened the other day. I understand we have a responsibility to the taxpayer, but these tools are available and I don't understand why we wouldn't make it a priority."

Pete DiCianni, who supported body cameras in 2015, said cameras could give first responders "peace of mind that the full story will be told."
Pete DiCianni, who supported body cameras in 2015, said cameras could give first responders "peace of mind that the full story will be told."

Pete DiCianni was the other board member who supported body cameras two years ago. He echoed Chaplin's sentiments in a statement, saying the cameras could give first responders "peace of mind that the full story will be told."

County board member Grant Eckhoff, who serves as chairman of the judicial and public safety committee, said Zaruba needs to make a presentation to the county board and answer questions before money is included in his budget for cameras.

While an argument could be made for body cameras in Chicago, Eckhoff said, he doesn't think there's as great a need in DuPage County.

"Additional information would, I suppose, always be helpful, but at what cost? We have to prioritize what we're paying for," he said.

County board member Paul Fichtner said he hasn't noticed "a pattern of troubling incidents" and that officer-involved shootings are rare in DuPage County.
County board member Paul Fichtner said he hasn't noticed "a pattern of troubling incidents" and that officer-involved shootings are rare in DuPage County.

Board member Paul Fichtner agreed and said he thinks it would be premature to conclude that "we need an extraordinarily expensive system to monitor the extremely professional people we have in law enforcement."

"I haven't noticed a pattern of troubling incidents," he said. "These shootings are extremely rare in DuPage County."

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