Evanston police showed examples of videos recorded during the first two months of the department’s body worn camera test at a public meeting Monday afternoon at the Civic Center.

In the most dramatic incident shown, officers arrested a man, seen in the screen capture image above, who’d tried to bolt after he’d been detained by officers who observed him apparently smoking marijuana in a car.

When the officers searched the car, Deputy Chief Jay Parrott said, they discovered two guns inside.

Other videos showed:

  • A woman being taken into custody over a disturbance at the Davis Street CTA station. She ended up being taken to a hospital after threatening to kill herself.
  • A July 4th incident where the body cam caught the muzzle flash of a rifle being fired into the air in a west side alley.
  • And two incidents where officers assisted people who appeared to be having health issues on the street.

Jay Parrott.

Parrott said that with just 11 officers wearing the cameras now, the department has accumulated more than 1,700 video recordings in the test, and that it would probably have 10 times as many once all officers are wearing the cameras.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said it’s likely to require adding a new full-time employee in the police department just to manage the video system and requests for copies of the videos for court procedings and to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.

That and the cost of all the additional equipment, Bobkiewicz said, means full deployment of the cameras will be a significant new cost for the city — up to several hundred thousand dollars — as it faces some severe budget constraints next year.

That was one rationale for the meeting — to help determine — before committing to the expense — that body cameras are something residents want the police to use.

One resident at the meeting, Joan Hickman, said the videos “show clearly what happened. I think this will be a lot of benefit.”

Residents got to handle one of the body cameras at the meeting.

Parrott said data from other communities shows that complaints about police are reduced when officers wear the cameras.

And one officer participating in the test said that a body camera video had “exonerated me completely” when someone he’d issued a ticket for driving while using a hand-held cellphone showed up at the police station two weeks later and “told a complete lie” about what had happened.

Parrott said the department has a combination of procedural rules and automated systems to try to make sure the cameras are recording when needed.

In addition to instructing officers to turn the cameras on manually in a variety of situations, the equipment is designed to turn on the cameras automatically when it detects certain signals.

For example, any time an officer unholsters a Taser, a wireless signal will turn on the camera of any officer standing within about 30 feet of the weapon. Similar automatic activations are available anytime the emergency lights are activated in a squad car or an officer removes a rifle from the car.

The cameras are also designed to constantly record a 30-second video buffer so that whenever the camera is turned on a record is available of what the camera saw for a half minute before it was activated.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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