Round Lake Park Police Sue Over Body Camera Bathroom Videos
The Round Lake Police just recently started using body cameras but it would seem that their department has not been following policy. Body cameras are a hot topic of debate within our community because while they can be useful, they can also be very invasive and damaging if not appropriately regulated. Think about it, having a camera record you, non stop, throughout your entire work day, even during your private and personal moments…take it from someone who wears one, they are not fun.
The Chicago Tribune reports:
Police officers in north suburban Round Lake Park have sued the village over their claims that body cameras invaded their privacy by secretly recording them in the bathroom and in other private moments.
The department started using the body cameras last September, and officers were instructed to activate them during traffic stops and other enforcement actions.
But the officers said in the suit that, unbeknownst to them, the cameras were actually shooting video “nonstop,” in violation of the department’s policy not to record private body parts or nonenforcement activities.
The suit claims that the cameras recorded thousands of “highly offensive and voyeuristic intrusions,” including video that exposed officers’ genitals and showed them engaging in “private and personal acts,” including using the bathroom and changing their clothes.
In response to the federal lawsuit, Chief George Filenko said Friday that he had been unaware of the recordings until an officer discovered them. Filenko issued a statement saying the 10 officers who sued raised their allegations before all the facts are known.
“The police officers who filed the lawsuit against the village made a quick rush to judgment, without considering all of the facts,” the statement read.
Filenko said the village hired an independent attorney to investigate the operation of the body cameras “to determine whether there was any impropriety in their use.” That investigation is ongoing.
Body cameras are small video-recording devices that attach to officers’ uniforms, and they’re becoming increasingly common as police departments and the public seek better records of the conduct of officers and the people with whom they interact on the job.
In Round Lake Park, Officer Dominick Izzo, one of the officers suing, said he discovered while reviewing video from his camera in May that it had continued to record even when it was “off” or in sleep mode, according to the lawsuit, which claims the system at that point had video going back at least to February.
Upon realizing what had occurred, the suit states, the officers were “humiliated, embarrassed and greatly upset.”
Izzo alerted a commander, who wrote a memo that day notifying other officers of the problem and advising them to take off the cameras when not working. The agency soon halted use of the cameras altogether.
The only two people with full administrative access to the video review system were Filenko and Deputy Chief Daniel Burch, who therefore knew about the unauthorized video, asserts the suit, which names both as defendants. Burch had also conducted the department’s initial two-hour training session on the cameras, showing officers how to start and stop the devices, advising officers to record almost all calls, both routine and emergency, including traffic stops and foot pursuits.
The Police Department’s policy stated that the cameras would not normally be used in places where a reasonable expectation of privacy existed, such as restrooms and dressing rooms.
After the discovery, another officer said he witnessed Burch delete all the unauthorized video, despite a state law that requires body camera recordings be saved for at least 90 days, according to the suit.
Ten officers, out of 13 on the force, filed the suit Thursday in federal court, claiming that the recordings violated their civil rights and invaded their privacy. Each officer is seeking damages of more than $100,000, which would total more than $1 million.
Reached by phone, Filenko said he never saw the controversial video, and said the plaintiffs had refused to talk to the law firm investigating it, Ancel Glink.
Filenko also had not yet seen the suit Friday, and declined to answer further questions while it was pending. He said the case would be referred to the village’s insurer.
The vendor that provided the cameras is Enforcement Video, LLC, of Allen, Texas, doing business as WatchGuard Video. It claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of in-car police video systems and that more than 1,000 departments use its VISTA body camera.
The cameras are always recording unless that feature is disabled by the administrator, WatchGuard spokeswoman Jaime Carlin said. The company trains police supervisors on how to disable the feature, and supervisors then train officers on how to use the system, she said. Officers can override the feature simply by turning the camera off, she said.
The system only saves video to the server if it is marked as evidence, she said. Otherwise, it typically gets recorded over in a day or two.
The feature has helped catch criminals, Carlin said, citing a Massachusetts case in which a squad car camera caught a man at a fatal arson scene who was later convicted of manslaughter.