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Council: Police to keep body cam discretion

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
December 20, 2011
— Score: The Edgerton Police Department, 1; "Big Brother," 0.

The Edgerton City Council on Monday voted to allow city police officers to continue having discretion about when to turn on body-mounted cameras each patrol officer wears while on duty.


The decision came despite recent urging by a resident who wanted officials to change the policy. Instead, the resident prefers a policy requiring the devices be activated whenever police come in contact with a citizen.


Edgerton's public safety committee voted 2-1 on Nov. 7 to continue allowing police officers discretion about when to turn the cameras on.


Monday, the council upheld that decision, with just one alderperson, Matt McIntyre, voting in opposition. McIntyre told The Gazette he wants officers to be required to use the devices on all calls to bars and taverns.


The department's existing policy gives officers discretion about when to activate the cameras in any contact, but it states officers should do so whenever they believe the possibility of "enforcement" exists, or when it is "in the best interests of the police department" to turn them on.


City attorney Dale Pope acknowledged that's a very "subjective" standard, but he told the council that narrowing the guidelines for use of the cameras wouldn't necessarily help.


"The problem you have is it's very difficult to define a standard that's going to work all the time," Pope said.


Pope said if the city had a mandate that officers should activate a body cam at every traffic stop, and an officer forgot one time, it could inadvertently appear as an impropriety or that the officer was "trying to cover something up."


On the other hand, Pope said if the city required officers to use the devices whenever they have law enforcement contact with citizens, it would erase all gray areas.


Police Chief Tom Klubertanz opposes any change in the policy and has called mandated use of body cams "Big Brother." He said if officers recorded their entire shift, it would take about two hours to download and archive footage.


Alderwoman Candy Davis asked Klubertanz if the department requires officers to turn on their body cams at citizens' request. Klubertanz said under the current policy there is no such requirement.


Before voting against changing the policy, most council members agreed officers shouldn't be disciplined for not using their body cams. Pope said the devices are helpful, but they can't be the end-all in law enforcement.


"It's not going to work all the time," he said.


The body camera issue came up after Edgerton resident Mark McCoy filed a complaint last summer against Edgerton police officer Brody Kapellen.


In June, Kapellen responded to a heated tenancy dispute between two bar business owners, but he did not activate his body cam to record the incident.


Some at the dispute testified in a police commission hearing about the complaint that Kapellen was forceful and yelled at people during the dispute. The police commission found no reason to discipline Kapellen, but it called for a review of the body cam policy.


McCoy had urged the department and the city in recent weeks to change the body cam policy, but he was not at the hearing Monday.


City staff said McCoy was mailed notification that the issue was slated for discussion Monday. In a phone interview Monday night, McCoy claimed he never received notice of the discussion, and that he said he was working out of town and couldn't have made it anyway.


McCoy said he was "disappointed" in the decision. He pointed out a Gazette report from 2010 in which Klubertanz reportedly indicated body cams would be useful in many situations, and could prevent "he said, she said" disputes.


McCoy said he wonders why the department no longer seems to have that same stance.


"It just seems like they double-speak whenever it's convenient for them," he said.



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