By Bob Uphues
Brookfield's Police Department will become the first law enforcement agency within West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3) to equip patrol officers with body cameras.
Village trustees next month are expected to approve earmarking about $25,500 in the village's 2021 operating budget to get the program off the ground. Over the next five years, the village is likely to spend about $100,000 to buy the body cameras and technology infrastructure to support them.
"It's an enormous endeavor," said Brookfield Deputy Police Chief Michael Kuruvilla, who was tasked with putting together the body camera program. "It's a significant change to the way we do business."
Once trustees approve the 2021 appropriations ordinance in early January, said Kuruvilla, the police department will seek competitive bids for the cameras and back-end technological infrastructure and support.
The village likely will enter into a five-year contract with whatever body camera vendor it chooses. Brookfield can expect to pay around $22,000 per year to operate and maintain the system, Kuruvilla said.
"The largest cost is the [video] storage aspect," Kuruvilla said. "Other technical needs associated with this could change the [cost] significantly."
In addition to awarding a contract, Kuruvilla said the department will need to adopt a body camera use policy and train officers how to use them.
"My optimistic goal, if it's approved in the budget, and that's looking pretty good, is to have them in use in the first six months of the year," Kuruvilla said.
While the details still need to be worked out, Kuruvilla said he expects the village to purchase enough cameras for every police officer working a shift, with a few to spare.
Essentially, Kuruvilla said, the village will buy two banks of six to eight cameras. One bank would be in use on the street while the other would be recharging and uploading video.
While the village is looking to fund part of the cost with a grant – such grants are sometimes available through municipal risk management agencies, said Kuruvilla – the initiative is in the budget that trustees will vote to approve on Dec. 14.
It's perhaps not surprising that Brookfield is the first WC3 police agency adopting body cameras. After he was named deputy chief, Kuruvilla attended the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's Police School of Staff and Command.
There he chose body cameras as his area of study, recognizing even before this year's widespread civil unrest in response to instances of police brutality, especially against people of color, that their use was inevitable.
"It's a topic that frankly has been going on for several years in law enforcement generally," Kuruvilla said, adding that body camera video is used constantly for police training.
"I started to recognize personally how this tool has been a benefit, particularly for police departments," he said. "Even before all of the tragic things that have happened this year, this is a topic I thought we were going to have to face sooner than later."
Kuruvilla said Brookfield's police officers generally support the idea of wearing body cameras, and that the message from commanders to patrol officers, even now, is to assume they are always being recorded.
A benefit for police, said Kuruvilla, is that body camera footage will show an incident from an officer's perspective, from start to finish and not a short snippet. The benefit to the public is an added layer of transparency.
"We recognize what the public is expecting and calling for," Kuruvilla said. "We have to recognize there is a need for more transparency, more openness from us as the community's police department as well. We don't have a problem with that."
Police, fire departments
to share drone
In addition to police body cameras, village trustees are expected to approve a joint fire and police department purchase of a drone to serve as an eye in the sky during certain types of incidents.
The expense won't be too much – you can buy a drone equipped with a camera and thermal imaging capability for $5,000, said Fire Chief Jim Adams – and drones can be used for a variety of purposes, from searching forest preserves for missing people and criminal suspects to pinpointing hot spots at fire scenes.
Adams has experience using drones from his former job as fire chief in Westchester and Brookfield Police Lt. Terry Schreiber is a certified drone pilot.
In past emergencies when an aerial assist was needed, police would have to call in a helicopter from Chicago police, which could take as much as an hour to arrive, if it was available at all.
"Day or night you can throw a drone up real quick," Adams said.
A drone can maintain its altitude and position to monitor a scene, like a water rescue, to ensure first responders maintain eyes on a victim. They can be used in railroad hazmat situations, giving a closer look at what might be a scene too dangerous to approach closely.
"It's got huge potential," Adams said. "It's definitely a useful tool."
Adams said he is seeking grant funding for the drone, although it's likely the village would purchase one without a grant.
"These aren't just toys anymore," Adams said.