City leaders hear more about police body cameras; still considering marijuana ordinance

By Nick Kovatch on November 8 at 8:50am

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Jacksonville aldermen and police administrators gathered last night to hear more about body cameras for police officers last night.

Digital Ally representative Jim Hendrickson made a presentation during yesterday’s Public Protection Committee meeting. Jacksonville Police Chief Tony Grootens says he’s in favor of the idea if Illinois would be a single-party consent state. Right now in Illinois, both parties have to consent to audio recording a conversation.

Alderman Adonnis Shaw believes body cameras would help prevent excessive force lawsuits and keep officers accountable with just video recording.

“When you have a situation in which someone claims excessive force, basically, in our current situation it’s the officer’s word versus the citizen’s word and the judge has to make a decision based off the preponderance of evidence,” says Shaw. “Well, if you add video recording to that evidence it gives a clear understanding of what exactly happened. Either the officer is at fault or the citizen is at fault. The video will tell the truth.”

Grootens contends seeing video of a police incident without audio doesn’t always tell the whole story.

“It can interpreted differently that what actually happened,” says Grootens. “I’m for it but I think we have to change the state statute to allow the officers to audio record as well as video. I do believe it will cut down on the accusations of excessive force because I don’t believe our officers do that to begin with.”

Hendrickson told city officials they can test a camera for free before making a purchase. Aldermen decided to discuss the idea with city attorney Dan Beard before making that decision.

Also last night, members of the Public Protection Committee reviewed findings concerning the proposal that would make possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana an ordinance violation instead of a criminal offense.

The idea asks aldermen to draft an ordinance that would have first-time offenders arrested for 2.5 grams of pot or less appear in municipal court instead of county court, therefore sparing them a mark on their record. One of the organizers of the petition, Anthony Stephens, says this would give young people who make one bad mistake a better chance at findings jobs or obtaining federal college loans.

Grootens says he reached out to communities with similar ordinances like Springfield, Decatur and Bloomington and found officials in those cities had no complaints about their ordinances. Grootens says 28 people have been arrested for 2.5 grams of cannabis or less since June, but it’s unknown how many of them were first offenders.

Alderman Marcy Patterson held firm on her belief the offense should remain in criminal court saying Morgan County state’s attorney Robert Bonjean feels the same and that the courts already give these first offenders opportunities at second chances.

Most of the other City Council members, including Public Protection Committee chair Tony Williams, didn’t give a strong opinion one way or the other.

“When it comes to things that are still on that brink of being illegal then I think we have to take responsibility for that,” says Williams. “But, yet, maybe on the other end of the spectrum we should be a little bit more forgiving. As far as my decision right now, I really am waiting for Jacksonville to give me more of an impression on what they want to do.”

To find out how to contact your alderman, click here.

Pictured above: Digital Ally representative Jim Hendrickson (left) talks to city officials about police body cameras.