Jacksonville police chief talks about body cameras, jury duty

By Gary Scott on August 19, 2015 at 7:43am

Following the signing of legislation regarding police officer body cameras, Jacksonville’s police chief says they’re coming locally, but not soon.

The law regulates how police departments should use the devices. While they’re not required to purchase them, the law lays out the rules if they do. Cameras must be on at all times when an officer responds to a call.

They can be turned off if a victim or witness makes the request, or if the officer is talking to a confidential informant.

Even though the bill has been heralded as the most comprehensive bill in the country, at least one police chief in Illinois has said he won’t purchase body cameras based on the legislation, and other law enforcement officials have voiced concerns. JPD Chief Tony Grootens thinks he knows why.

“I know what these local departments are thinking- the same thing I’m thinking- what’s it going to cost us?” questions Grootens.

“We’re going to have to do the redaction for [Freedom of Information Act] purposes, and even though they say it’s not FOIA-able unless there’s a complaint for excessive force, I can see that going through the roof, just so they can get their hands on it.”

Grootens says body cameras have to be done the right way.

“We have to retain the footage for 90 days minimum, and if it’s a complaint against an officer, you have to keep it indefinitely. That storage is going to cost you money, it’s going to cost the citizens of Jacksonville money. It’s worrisome in some regard on how we’re going to deal with it; let’s just let it soak in and see what we’re actually going to have to do,” says Grootens.

“We don’t have it budgeted in the near future to do it, but it’s been something that I’ve been actually supportive of for a long time. But we have to do it the proper way.”

Just as recently as last September, Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard said he wanted JPD officers to wear body cameras. Earlier this summer, Meredosia’s police chief announced his department would start wearing them.

We also talked to Chief Grootens about the subject of jury duty. Acting on a tip from the Morgan County Courthouse, WLDS-WEAI News asked the chief if he missed jury duty for a trial last Tuesday.

Grootens admits that happened, but that it was an oversight. He says he has since called and re-scheduled.

“Every place is different, but here in Jacksonville, what you have to do, you get this notice. I got it actually in July. I filled out the questionnaire, and on there, on the receipt end of it, it says call in Monday, August 10th, last Monday.

“You remember Monday, August 10th? City Council, ok. So, I didn’t call in, I got distracted, I’m sorry. When it was brought to my attention, by Bobby Bonjean actually, I called in [Monday, August 17th], and I have to call in again on the 24th,” explains Grootens.

State’s Attorney Bonjean, who you just heard Grootens mention, told us yesterday that usually, it’s not an issue when someone misses jury unless a judge doesn’t have enough candidates to select a jury. In that case, Bonjean says the court will order a person selected for jury duty to attend.

We’ll air the full interview with Grootens later on this week on “What’s On Your Mind?” on WLDS.