McHenry County Board takes step toward calling on sheriff's office to use body cameras

Resolution will go to full County Board for a vote at Oct. 20 meeting

The McHenry County Board will consider to formally encourage the McHenry County Sheriff's Office to start using body cameras and request that the agency run a cost-benefit analysis to see if the idea would be financially feasible.

The board's Law and Government Committee passed the resolution unanimously after a winding discussion in which board members seemed to share support for the idea but disagreed on the necessary next steps.

The resolution will next go to the full County Board for consideration Oct. 20. The sheriff, who is elected by county residents independently of the County Board, would not have to follow the requests laid out in the resolution.

Board member Kelli Wegener presented the resolution, which formally calls upon the sheriff's office to "initiate the process of" purchasing body cameras as well as the necessary data storage software. The resolution also asks that the sheriff's office invest in the required personnel training associated with body cameras and that it include the upkeep, replacement and training costs in future budgets.

In her introductory statement, Wegener listed off all of the ways in which the use of body cameras would benefit county residents, as well as sheriff's deputies, including increased safety and accountability on both sides and the greater prosecutorial power that comes with video evidence.

"I highly recommend body cams; it seems like many of the local municipality police chiefs do," Wegener said. "With all the incidents in the media, we can protect our county by having an unbiased, full narrative of a situation – not just a five-second cell phone video that somebody may have recorded during an incident."

The rest of the committee's seven members seemed to agree with the majority of these points. However, board member Jeffrey Thorsen said the committee should be discussing how the county would pay for the body cameras and other associated costs, rather than voting on a resolution that "feels good."

"If we want to get up on our high horse and say this is what we want to do, then let's put our money where our mouth is," Thorsen said. "Let's make sure that we have that money available and we know where its coming from in this budget or the next."

Board member Michelle Aavang agreed and questioned the need for a resolution given that the board has had previous conversations with the sheriff's office about starting the process of implementing body cameras.

Those conversations took place in June with the intention of having more information in September so the resolution is meant to bring the issue back to the forefront, Wegener said.

Sheriff Bill Prim, who attended the meeting, said he would fully support the use of body cameras if cost were not a factor but pointed out that there are many costs that come along with the endeavor.

"I don't know that going out and spending a million dollars is a necessary expense at this time for a problem that is, quite frankly, minuscule in this county, knock on wood," Prim said.

Wegener said in the past, grant funding for the use of body cameras has been made available through the U.S. Bureau of Justice, but Prim said the amount of that grant typically allocated to each agency is minimal in comparison to the costs they would face.

Board member Chuck Wheeler proposed an amendment to the resolution requesting that the sheriff's office conduct a thorough financial analysis of the costs and benefits that would come with the use of body-worn cameras.

The amendment passed 5-3, with Wegener, Acosta and board member John Jung, Jr. dissenting.

The county is nearing the end of its budgetary proceedings for the upcoming fiscal year, but board member Carlos Acosta said that does not necessarily mean that the implementation of body cameras would have to wait until next budget season. The sheriff's office's budget could still be adjusted to include funds for body cameras if a majority of County Board members support that decision, he said.

“All of the committee members want the body cameras to happen, but I think we were kind of getting stuck in how to get there,” Acosta said.

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