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Edgerton committee: police should have discretion over use of body cameras

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
November 8, 2011
— Edgerton’s public safety committee on Monday voted 2-1 to continue allowing police officers to decide when to use body-mounted cameras to record arrests, traffic stops and other incidents.

The city’s police commission had requested the committee review a police department policy that gives officers discretion about whether to use the cameras.


Public safety committee Chairwoman Andrea Egerstaffer and committee member Mark Wellnitz, both city alderpersons, voted to retain the existing policy, saying they trusted officers to use the devices when necessary. The third committee member, Alderman Matt McIntyre, voted to change the policy, saying it should require officers to activate the cameras whenever they’re called to bars or taverns.


The commission last month asked the committee to re-evaluate the policy after a citizen complaint about how Edgerton officer Brody Kapellen handled an alcohol-fueled dispute June 30 between two bar owners at the former Wile E’s Bar, 12 W. Fulton St.


Kapellen said he stood by that night to keep the peace but made no arrests and issued no orders. Edgerton resident Mark McCoy, who also was at the bar, later filed a complaint that Kapellen interjected himself into the situation and ordered some patrons to leave the bar.


Kapellen decided not to activate his body camera during the incident.


After a hearing about the complaint, the commission didn’t ask for Kapellen to be disciplined, but it did find that a recording of the incident would have been helpful.


McCoy told the committee Monday that the complaint against Kapellen could have been handled without a hearing had the officer used his body recorder.


“It would have been a cut-and-dried case,” McCoy said.


McCoy asked the committee to change the policy to require officers to activate their cameras during every law enforcement encounter with the public. Egerstaffer on Monday opposed that request, estimating the department responds to several thousand calls a year and argued it would be cumbersome to have to record and process each call.


Edgerton Police Chief Tom Klubertanz told the committee Monday that staff time spent documenting and archiving recordings is not the problem. He said officers should have discretion to use the devices as they see fit.


“It’s just a tool to enhance his (the officer’s) word or his testimony,” Klubertanz said. “The reason we got them is not to be Big Brother.”


Klubertanz argued he, not the committee, should have control of any policy changes.


Egerstaffer said she trusts police to decide when the cameras should be used.


“I trust my officers. We have a good town, we have good officers, and we have a good rapport,” she said.


Wellnitz echoed those sentiments.


“Police officers are hired to use discretion. That’s why they’re the position they’re in. It’s mainly their job,” he said.


According to policy, the department regularly uses audio and video cameras in traffic stops, use of force arrests and for criminal investigations. The footage is kept 90 days and then erased unless it is needed in court or for an ongoing investigation.


Still, McIntyre said activating the cameras during calls to bars and taverns might help avoid problems like the incident at Wile E’s.


“If you (an officer) get called to a tavern, there’s usually something going on. It’s not just, ‘Where’s my pen that you forgot to give me?’ It’s usually alcohol-related,” McIntyre said.


McIntyre also argued that if people in those situations knew they were being recorded, it could temper their behavior.



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