Paxton police now equipped with body cameras

PAXTON — Whenever Paxton police officers get called to any law enforcement-related matter, their actions — and the actions of others — will be captured on camera.

In recent weeks, the police department acquired three body cameras, making it the first law enforcement agency in Ford County to get them. The body cameras are worn by officers who are on duty, but they are not required to disclose that fact since each body camera is “in plain view,” clipped to the officer’s vest, Police Chief Coy Cornett said.

“Anytime we get a law enforcement call, they’ll be used,” Cornett said. “So, I mean, if (an officer is) going into, say, the Village Pantry (convenience store in Paxton) to grab a soda, they’re not on at that point in time because it’s not a law enforcement-based thing. But if it’s a call for service, or if it’s a motor vehicle assist, a traffic accident — anything like that — it will be on.”

The body cameras start recording with the click of a button, retroactive to 30 seconds prior to when the button was pressed by the officer.

“It’s a DVR unit is what it is,” Cornett said. “So if you’re at Village Pantry getting a drink, and somebody comes in and wants to file a complaint — most of the time you won’t know (someone wants to file a complaint) unless it’s already started — so that way you hit your button and you get 30 seconds (of video footage) prior to that.

“Our squad car cameras are set up the same way. The squad car cameras are actually set up for, like, two minutes prior.”

The body cameras and squad car cameras use the same computer system, allowing the footage each camera records to be placed on a single DVD that can be used as evidence in court.

Each body camera can record for up to 12 consecutive hours before needing recharged. Whenever an officer’s shift ends, his body camera is returned to a “docking station” at the police department, which is used to recharge the body camera’s battery and download that day’s video footage to a pair of 2-terabyte hard drives, Cornett said.

The video has to be stored for at least 90 days, Cornett said.

“Any kind of videos we have — law enforcement-based videos — we (are required) to keep them for 90 days, at least. So that means you have to store it somewhere,” Cornett said. “So what we did is we got two 2-terrabyte hard drives added to our server, which should have plenty of room for this. It shouldn’t be an issue.”

The body cameras’ video footage is “way clearer than the car cameras’,” Cornett said, “because with the car cameras, you actually have a little bit of a glare always coming off the windshield — plus if your windshield is dirty and stuff like that.

“You don’t have that with this. It is clear, high-definition, high-resolution (footage).”

Such evidence can help greatly in court, Cornett said. The body cameras also can provide indisputable evidence if a complaint is made against an officer, Cornett said.

“It makes it a lot easier to prove a case,” Cornett said. “It alleviates the defense’s argument is what it’s doing. Plus, also it’s good for civil liabilities. It’s good for officer complaints. It keeps everybody on their toes.

“I mean, just somebody seeing you have a body camera on actually changes their attitude. So that helps out also.”

The Paxton Police Department’s three body cameras were purchased for $980 each from WatchGuard, based in Texas, Cornett said. About $500 of the total cost was covered by a $500 donation from Ford County State’s Attorney Andrew Killian, who last fall donated $500 each in funds from his office’s drug asset forfeiture account to the Ford County Sheriff’s Office, Gibson City Police Department, Paxton Police Department and Kankakee Area Metropolitan Enforcement Group.

“We got our first (body camera) on Dec. 19, I believe,” Cornett said. “The other two came on Jan. 8.”

Since the body cameras were acquired, they have already been used in “several” cases where the video evidence recorded is expected to end up being used in a court proceeding, Cornett said.

“That’s because they’re with us every single time we make an arrest,” Cornett said. “We’ve had several situations recently where they’ve been on.”

Cornett said the body cameras have proven to be useful in domestic battery cases, in particular.

“I mean, you’re seeing a person’s emotions — it’s just not a piece of paper you’re reading; it’s not just a report that you’re reading; it’s actual first-person viewing situations,” Cornett said.

With three body cameras on hand, the police department has enough for every officer on duty to wear one during each shift, Cornett said. There are usually no more than two officers working at a single time, meaning at least one body camera can be recharging while the others are in use, Cornett noted.

The police department employs seven full-time officers and one part-time officer. Cornett said it remains to be seen whether his agency acquires more body cameras.

“We’ll have to see how much we need them,” Cornett said. “I think it’s fine the way it is now because we always have one sitting there. So I don’t think it’s an issue at this point in time.

“But we’ll have to see. Ultimately, we’ll have a better feel in the next couple of months if we need to get one additional one.”

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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