Edgerton to review policy on police body cameras

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011
— On Nov. 7, Edgerton’s public safety committee will re-evaluate the police department’s policy on body-mounted cameras its patrol officers are required to wear while on duty.

Each patrol officer is equipped with a body camera—a digital unit clipped to his or her shirt that, in most settings, records clear audio and video footage for later review.

The department most often uses the devices to record arrests, traffic stops and criminal investigations, according to Edgerton Police Chief Tom Klubertanz.

Under the department’s existing policy, patrol officers are allowed discretion on whether to turn the cameras on during law-enforcement activities.

That leeway has come under scrutiny after a tenancy dispute June 30 between two bar owners at the former Wile E’s Bar, 12 W. Fulton St. Patrol officer Brody Kapellen responded to the dispute and chose not to turn on his body camera.

Kapellen returned to Wile E’s several times June 30 while the feuding bar owners and others at the bar, some of whom had been drinking, hashed out details of an eviction and ownership of property at the bar. Kapellen reported that he stood by to keep the peace, but made no arrests and issued no orders.

Edgerton resident Mark McCoy, a witness to the incident, later filed a complaint that Kapellen injected himself into the situation and began ordering people to get out of the building.

The Edgerton Police Commission in an Oct. 18 hearing on the complaint found Kapellen had not violated any department policy during the incident, and it found no reason to discipline him.

However, the commission noted in written findings on the hearing that it “would have been of assistance to the commission” to have had audio and video evidence of the incident.

In its findings, the commission asked the public safety committee to re-evaluate the department’s rules for use of the body cameras.

In an interview, Edgerton Police Chief Tom Klubertanz refused to discuss the June 30 incident or the complaint against Kapellen.

“I’m done with that incident. It’s past. It’s done,” he said.

Klubertanz also would not discuss whether he believes the department's body camera policy should be re-evaluated, and he would not comment on whether he thought it would have helped to have a recording of the June 30 incident.

“It was officer’s discretion,” Klubertanz said. “He (Kapellen) didn’t use the camera that night. I’m not second-guessing him.”

The Janesville Police Department uses similar recording devices and has a policy similar to Edgerton’s.

“There’s a certain level of discretion,” said Janesville Police Deputy Chief Dan Davis. “However, if they find themselves in a situation where they anticipate taking some level of enforcement action, it needs to be turned on during the entire encounter.”

Edgerton’s policy states the cameras can be used under circumstances “that lead the officer to believe that the specifics of a contact (with the public) may need to be retrieved or reviewed.”

McCoy argues that if Kapellen had recorded the June 30 incident, it would have provided “open and shut evidence,” making it much easier for officials to confirm or disprove his complaint against Kapellen.

McCoy said he believes the public safety committee should recommend that officers must use their body cameras during every law enforcement contact with the public.

“I’d like to see them used in all instances,” he said.

Klubertanz indicated it would not be a logistical problem for officers to use the cameras whenever they have law enforcement contact with someone. In fact, department records show that some Edgerton officers use the cameras as often as a dozen times in the course of a single shift.

The department recently has used the cameras for traffic stops, disorderly conduct arrests and foot chases.

Still, Klubertanz suggested a policy requiring officers to record every law enforcement encounter would be extraneous and invasive.

“If it’s on all the time, it’s Big Brother. And that’s not what they’re intended to be,” Klubertanz said.

Under department policy, officers download their camera footage at the end of every shift and an evidence technician archives the files. Each recording is kept for 90 days, and it can be discarded if it’s not needed in an investigation or in court.

State law does not require police to inform members of the public when the cameras are in use, and Edgerton’s policy allows officers to turn their cameras on and off during an incident. However, they are required to document having done so when filling out reports.

Edgerton's policy does not address how officers would handle requests by the public to have the cameras turned on during incidents.

Klubertanz says he reviews body camera recordings when investigations require him to do so, and when he’s curious about how an officer handled an incident.

He said he believes the cameras are intended to serve both the department and the public.

“They serve the officer—he’s getting an accurate view and video. It’s another witness. If there’s a complaint that an officer was abusive, it works both sides,” said Klubertanz. “It can protect the officer. It can hurt the officer.”

Last updated: 7:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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