Police Body Cameras: What You Need to Know

This summer, the state of Illinois approved a measure that would provide more money for the state’s police agencies to undertake training on how to use body cameras. The law, known as Senate Bill 1304 or the Police and Community Improvement Act, also sets standards on how those cameras should be used, who can obtain the footage, and creates a database of officers who have been in trouble due to misconduct (the bill can be found here).

So what does this mean for you, the average person?

Well, for starters, it means that a $5 fine will be imposed on criminal or traffic offense that result in a conviction. That will not take effect until Jan. 1. So there is a small financial consideration. It also bars the use of chokeholds by police officers unless deadly force is required. There is also a standard for when such force is used. So that’s a plus for the average person in that checks on how police can subdue a person are in now in place. The law creates standards for officers to become more aware and understanding of bias and cultural differences.

The database will be accessible for the public to see who has been fired or disciplined. It also puts into place requirements for how body cameras are used by police. It doesn’t mandate a department use them but if they do, there are regulations such as:

  • The camera must be turned on at least 30 seconds before an encounter with the public.
  • It must on the entire time an officer is conducting an interview or investigation with the public.
  • It must be able to record for at least 10 hours.
  • And the officer must tell the person or people that he is recording the incident.

It also calls for independent reviews of all police-involved deaths, a key point in the wake of officer-involved fatal shootings that led to riots in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. According to the Associated Press, there is also the creation of a commission that will review training requirements and other issues and report to legislators and the governor by the end of January.

So, we’ll ask the question again: What does this mean for the average person? It means that there are more things out there to possibly assist a defense attorney in handling your case. There are more ways that you, the citizen, can monitor your own police department and there are, in theory, safeguards there to prevent police misconduct.

But there are safeguards for personal privacy. An officer can turn off the camera if they are talking to a confidential source and in general, the recordings are not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act unless they are involved in a so-called “use of force” incident or a fatal shooting.

Recordings aren’t new. Interrogations are often recorded and dashboard cameras in squad cars are fairly common. But the idea of the body camera with all that it can AND can’t show is a relatively new idea. And that’s why you need an attorney who is up on the latest trends and laws. There will be new precedents set regarding the use of these cameras. At times, the cameras will be a boon for the defense while other times, they could hurt a person’s case.

Here at the Miller Law Offices, we are following the latest trends in criminal law so we can be at the forefront of the defense bar. We want to use the latest technology as well as legal rulings to make sure your rights are protected and that you are given a fair shake at every stage of your case.

Posted in Criminal Law

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