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Northern Illinois County Considers Police Body Cams

Winnebago County, Ill., sheriff's deputies could be equipped with body cameras and new Tasers soon if the Winnebago County Board votes to approve a $2.4 million contract in the days to come.

by Isaac Guerrero, Rockford Register Star / November 27, 2019

(TNS) — Winnebago County, Ill., sheriff's deputies could be equipped with body cameras and new Tasers if the Winnebago County Board approves a $2.4 million contract Tuesday.

But some board members say they're opposed to the plan because they've only been given one offer to consider instead of multiple proposals, which could fetch more competitive prices.

"We didn't reach out to any other vendor," said board member David Boomer, a Republican from South Beloit. "It looks like a good deal when there's only one deal, but I think we should look at all of our options before we just jump into a contract that we don't even know is the best deal."

The proposal under consideration is from Axon Enterprise, Inc., formerly known as Taser International. The Scottsdale, Arizona-based company develops technology and less-than lethal weapons for law enforcement and civilians. The company's $2.4 million bundle package to the county includes 93 Tasers, 93 body cameras and 55 dash cams for patrol; and 40 Tasers and 90 body cams for correctional officers. The price includes data storage and evidence management.

Gus Gentner, the county's chief information officer, has said the county also would have to invest at least $110,000 to upgrade its information technology infrastructure to support the body cameras should the board OK the Axon deal.

Sheriff Gary Caruana and State's Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross have said that Illinois will most likely require local law enforcement agencies to acquire body cameras within the next few years, despite the cost to store and maintain video footage. Both the sheriff and the state's attorney say such video footage will save prosecutors and defense attorneys time to investigate cases, protect officers against claims of excessive use of force and protect the public.

Axon's proposal includes providing the sheriff's department with "empathy training" to help officers who encounter subjects with mental illness. The company's five-year offer would defer a portion of the county's payments in the first year. The county would pay about $331,600 from its jail commissary account in the first year with other costs deferred to years two through five. No funding source has been identified — another sore spot for some board members, Boomer said.

Boomer, along with board members Jaime Salgado, Steve Schultz and Dave Fiduccia voted against the proposal during a committee meeting Thursday. A simple majority of 11 of the 20 board members is all that's needed for the contract to be approved Tuesday.

Executive question

Also up for consideration on Tuesday is a contract with Northern Illinois Center for Governmental Studies to explore the best way to govern Winnebago County. The university agency would provide research and analysis for the county regarding the duties and responsibilities of the County Board chairman and administrator. The contract would continue the work done this year by an ad hoc committee led by board member Paul Arena, a Republican from Roscoe.

Conflict has rattled county government since more than 60,000 voters elected Frank Haney chairman in November 2016. Political and budgetary disputes prompted the sheriff and the chairman to sue the board, and quarrels within the chairman's office sparked workplace probes that have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. A majority of the 20-member board remains cool to Haney's reform agenda, and some have even called on him to resign.

Haney said in April that he would not seek re-election and would instead champion a November 2020 ballot initiative asking voters to adopt an "executive" form of county government. If approved, the county would be governed by the board and — instead of a countywide-elected chairman with powers established by the board — a countywide-elected executive with duties and responsibilities codified by state law.

Arena's ad hoc panel rejected a recommendation that the Personnel & Policies Committee consider placing a question on the November 2020 ballot that would ask voters to approve an executive form of county government.

Haney favors the county executive model because it would prevent the County Board from altering the job description of the county's top elected official. But Arena and other board members say it puts too much power in the hands of a county executive. It would be better, Arena has said, to have county government run by a professional administrator appointed by the board. Then, if there's ever a problem, the board could remove the administrator at any moment rather than having to wait until the next election and hope that voters elect a better candidate.

Arena said the NIU agency would be paid up to $4,900 for its work, which would take approximately seven weeks to complete.

The chairman's position and 10 of the 20 County Board seats are up for election next year. The lineup for the March 17 primary will come into focus as candidates file nominating petitions Monday through Dec. 2.

Three men have announced plans to run for the chairman's job: board member Burt Gerl, a Democrat from Rockford; board member Jim Webster, a Rockton Republican; and Joe Chiarelli, a Rockford alderman and a Republican.

Estwing subsidy

Also on the County Board agenda Tuesday: Consideration of a $150,000 subsidy to offset the cost of a $10 million expansion at Estwing, the Rockford-based hammer, axe, pry bar and striking tool manufacturer.

The proposed subsidy would come from the county's 'host fee' fund — money for economic development initiatives that is generated by fees levied on waste haulers who dump trash at Winnebago Landfill.

Estwing announced earlier this year that it plans to add 30 jobs as part of an expansion of its 2647 Eighth St. plant.

Haney said he supports the proposed county subsidy not just because Estwing is based in Rockford, but because it is a 'primary jobs' employer, meaning that the company imports revenue into the region because the products it manufactures and sells are sold primarily outside the region. Additionally, Haney said, Estwing is committed to hiring employees who may have trouble finding employment due to a criminal record.

"Not only is this an expansion and retention of jobs, this is a company that is committed to giving folks a second chance," Haney said. "That's important to them and they actively look for that."

©2019 Rockford Register Star, Ill. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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