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Episode 49: Pilot Program Spotlight – Elgin PD, IL

Todd Maxwell, a member of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Body Worn Camera team, interviews Elgin Police Department's Chief Jeffrey Swoboda to discuss their agencies delve into BWCs. Chief Swoboda shares their initial experiences in researching BWCs along with the challenges to implementing them for a smaller agency.

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BJA Body-Worn Camera Podcast Script

Elgin Illinois PD

Todd Maxwell:  Hello again, listeners. This is Todd Maxwell, a member of the Bureau of Justice Assistance's Body-Worn Camera Team. And today, I'm speaking with Chief Jeffrey Swoboda from the Elgin Illinois Police Department. Chief Swoboda has been with the Elgin Police Department for 24 years and worked his way up in the department from the Resident Officer Program of Elgin - ROPE - to chief of police. He's held various assignments from accreditation manager to leading the department's gang, and drug units. As deputy chief, he led each of the three bureaus: investigation, operation and support. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice from Aurora University and a Master of Arts in Administration of Law Enforcement from Western Illinois University. He's also a graduate of Harvard's Senior Executives in Local Government, the FBI National Academy, Senior Management Institute for Police, PERF, and Northwestern's Staff and Command. Along with his constant commitment to community, he's strives to make better use of technology when it comes to crime fighting. Chief Swoboda, thank you for speaking with me today.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Well, thank you for having me.

Todd Maxwell:  I appreciate it. We're going to get right into it. Why did your department decide to get involved with body-worn cameras?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: We saw body-worn cameras as another tool that we could have within the police department to really just see what happened on a scene. In Elgin, we're not scared about technology at all. We embrace technology on many different fronts. And as we've seen body-worn cameras coming up, we've been looking at them for the past couple years. And so we said, well, while it's not perfect, it's not going to be perfect in all scenarios, and it's not always going to capture everything that occurred, it definitely will be another tool that does capture an event. It'll be another piece of the puzzle. So when we saw this coming down the pike, we started researching it, originally with our SWAT team, with some of our bicycle officers. And then now we're looking at the entire department having body-worn cameras. Because again, it's another tool that will really be that independent entity that will be capturing what really happened and what was said on a scene.

Todd Maxwell:  Thank you. Can you tell our listeners about what size your agency is, how many officers and such?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Yeah, so Elgin is, well, first of all, it's about a half hour, 45 minutes west of Chicago, and we have about 300 total personnel and 182 of which are sworn police officers.

Todd Maxwell:  Great. So based on your agency size, what would you say your biggest challenges were to implementing a body-worn camera program?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Well, cost is certainly one of the challenges. We were lucky enough that we received a grant from Department of Justice, and so we are one of three agencies in Illinois that received this grant. That is definitely going to help, but still money is always an issue and not just obviously the initial purchase, but then storage of that and ease of use when it comes to redaction of video. Those are the types of things that we're still partially getting our hands around. So money, the data storage, how we're going to be able to retrieve it when someone asks for this, whether it's a state's attorney, whether it comes through a Freedom of Information Act. So the retrieval of that data, it was one of the challenges we had.

We're also really working on the expectations. Now, many people think that because we have a camera on an officer that now we're going to have this beautiful view of everything that occurred like a movie scene in which it'll be cut, it'll be formatted perfectly. Everyone will be in the middle of the screen as they should be. Everyone will be clearly heard of what was said. And so we're just really pushing in trying to manage the expectations of the community. That while we see these cameras that they will be helpful, and to the officers as well, that these are going to be helpful as far as determining what really occurred, they're not perfect. And people shouldn't expect that everything will be captured, everything will be heard, that they'll always be working.

So there are those types of challenges. And then it goes in line with the expectations, the challenges of where to place on the body. Different areas of the body would offer different views, whether it's the shoulder-mounted camera, whether it's a chest-mounted camera, whether it's cameras that are up along some type of eyeglasses or sunglasses, which would then track the officer's eyes more than the torso, the body would. So those are just various challenges. And lastly, I would say probably just weather. You're in the Chicago area, we have very hot summers and humid summers and we have some very cold winters. And so we want to make sure that the ease of transferring from a very warm winter jacket to a summer type shirt, as well as to deal with the conditions when it's raining or sleeting or snowing. All of those things present us various challenges, but none of which we believe are so significant that we cannot overcome them.

Todd Maxwell:  You brought up a great point about how prosecutors, not so much prosecutors, but the courts and jury expect to see video and it's going to be pristine almost like a TV. It's come up in some of our other podcasts with prosecutors. So thank you for that.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Sure

Todd Maxwell:  When you were deciding on who should wear the cameras in your agency to test it out or pilot it, how did you guys decide which officers or districts should get them?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Right from the beginning, and like I said, we've gone back a few years on this. This is not some quick knee jerk reaction to any incidents that have occurred around the country. While those have obviously shown the importance, or can show the importance of body-worn cameras, we've been looking at this for a while. Obviously having video, if that was there and people could see what really happened, that would be obviously very valuable. So as we've been looking at these cameras, we've brought the officers in line with us every step of the way and said, as we're talking about this, we have a very, I believe, educated and forward thinking police department. And with that, it's really ingrained in the officers we hire. We don't hire police officers, we hire good people who want to make a difference in their community, then we train them to be police officers.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: And with that, the officers understand the importance of things like video cameras and the expectations that in the coming years, that many officers will be wearing cameras. So as we were talking about this, it wasn't hard to get buy-in from the officers since there's nothing hitting, nothing's being forced down their throat, they've helped us with implementation of policy, to picking out the cameras, to obviously then, also who's going to wear them. So we put it out and we've got plenty of volunteers to wear them. And they have really helped us figure it out. We had officer, obviously we wanted all times of the day. So we had officers on the midnight shift and we had officers on the day shift. We had female officers, we had male officers. We had tall officers, we had short officers.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Because all of those things can matter what the view might be from behind the wheel of a squad car to out on a scene. It's all of these things, shoulder-mounted to chest-mounted, as I said before. We really just put it out and got a group of about 10 people, 10 different officers, who are going to wear them from all hours of the day and then give us the feedback. And we wanted them to be completely honest and they had no problem being completely honest when something worked very well or something didn't work very well. And again, we brought them along the way. So I think everyone throughout the police department, we've had buy-in across the board. We brought in, because not just the police officers who are wearing them, we had our records department attend these meetings as well and our evidence department.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: So that when video is captured, how easy should it be, or what are the things we need it to do so that the records clerks can easily process that video. And if there's a request from the courts or from a local newspaper, we can process that easily. How does our evidence technician, how does he store this video? And where should it be stored? And what of the security, how high levels of security need to be on this? So we just really have been very inclusive in the process. Nobody's been turned away and we talk about it regularly from officers to the community, to our elected officials. And so everyone knows it's coming, everyone is on-board with it. And everyone also recognizes it's not the silver bullet that will, all of a sudden, make the community trust every officer or what an officer says is gold. But it's definitely, again, one more tool that will, I believe, really increase the cooperation that we we're lucky enough to have here in Elgin, but I think it'll help solidify it.

Todd Maxwell:  Thanks. You mentioned talking about some of the challenges and some of those were software/hardware related. What recommendations would you give to an agency that's looking to implement body cameras in dealing with vendors and choosing the right solution for their department?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: I think, it's got to be what that department is comfortable with. We talked to other departments and got their recommendations, but we ultimately knew that we needed our hands around every piece of equipment that we're going to have our officers wearing. It's great that another community recommended a certain brand, but we're going to have that brand come in and show us what they can do. How does it interact with... we have a lot of technology in the Elgin, Illinois Police Department from a real time information center where we're capturing video from around the entire city. We take in video from private businesses and locals' homes into our own police cameras. And we bring those all into one central area. And so we're very comfortable with video. And as we're looking at this, and as we're talking with people, we recognize that some departments who went to body-worn cameras really just said, you know, we went out and bought cameras and put them on officer's chests

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Sometimes it's working. They're understanding now that it can be difficult to make sure that the policy is very clear in the backend, the storage is there. So we wanted to experience it ourselves. We've done site visits and we really pushed the manufacturers to the limits and said, "Nope, we want this." In Illinois, there's a state law that talks about the battery life has to be 10 hours. Well, some didn't have 10 hour battery life. And so we told them, we're not going to consider you, it needs to have that. And so we were just very upfront with what we're doing and I would encourage everyone to do the same. And just because whatever vendor we ended up going with in Elgin, I would still recommend that nobody go to that just because we've done it.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: It needs to be a personal choice for each person because it also says a lot to the officers. I believe that when they speak up and they have opinions on a certain camera or how easy it was to wear, that that matters in that they're not forcing officers to wear a camera because they heard that Elgin said it was a good camera. So I think it needs to be very individual for every single agency.

Todd Maxwell:  You mentioned battery life. What other items were important for you guys with selecting a vendor?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: We wanted to know, as far as their customer service, when we had an issue, how easy was it to get in touch with somebody. If there was some type of, whether it was a software issue or if there was something with the camera itself. We wanted to know who we were going to be talking to, how many other people we're going to have to stand in line behind when something popped up. We also just wanted to really get to know each one of the vendors and what is their research and development? Do they have a camera here now and this is the camera they're going to have, or are they continuously trying to modify it? And how cutting edge have they been with their research and development? And so we really just wanted to have a good feel with any company that we brought in that they were in it with us with a partnership and they just weren't selling us a product, and then we were on our own.

Todd Maxwell:  Thank you. That provides some insight to what agencies that are looking to implement should be looking at it and looking for, so thank you.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Sure.

Todd Maxwell:  Do you all prefer, or did you guys go with premise or cloud storage for your digital media? And can you tell us why you chose one over the other?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Actually, I have a large box with me that we are now going through each one of the vendors and we have not selected a final product. And so as we do that, that is a big part of the determination of whether or not we're going to be going with a cloud base or housing all the video locally. Part of the issue that we want to make sure is working well, I mean, the cloud is a nice, obviously, a very convenient way to house things, but we want to make sure that with connectivity and with ease of getting to that information. And then also third parties like court systems are able to get to the data that they need as well. So we have not made that choice. We will be making that choice here in probably the next couple weeks, but we see benefits obviously to both. There's obviously some benefits to keeping it here on hand, but also to the cloud. So we have not made that determination yet.

Todd Maxwell:  Yeah. I appreciate that. Some of the agencies we've gotten feedback with is whether or not their IT department and servers are able to handle the onsite is a big determining factor for them.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Absolutely. The way it is in Illinois, talks about the cameras must be turned on during conversations and during interactions with the public. And we figured that on any given day, we might have 80 officers working. And if the camera is on, even four hours of the day, that still equals 69 terabytes of data. And because it has to be kept for a minimum of 90 days, and then if it's flagged, it has to be kept until the case has been adjudicated or in case of, there was any type of lawsuit or a use of force type of incident, we're looking at around two years to keep the data.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: That is a lot of storage that's out there and so that is a huge drain on our IT inside. But we want to make sure that at the end, it needs to be easy for the officers to wear and use, easy to retrieve the data so others who need it, whether it's in-house, or again, court systems are able to retrieve that data and get it timely as well, and not have to have a bunch of obstacles in getting to it. So we're still working through what is the best for all parties.

Todd Maxwell:  Do you feel like when you're choosing your vendors, since you're going through that process, are you going to look for one that has an inclusive video processing, like tagging and redaction, or you looking at a third party for that?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: As we went out for bids, that vendor had to tell us how they recommended their system works. I know at least one, if you go with their camera system, the backend is automatically included. In fact, you wouldn't be able to house it yourself. So with that video comes the backend storage, and so then, the redaction and all of that follows. So in each one of these, when they submitted their proposals, they spell out how they manage the data, or they say, we give you the camera and control your own data, you store it locally yourself. So vendor by vendor decides that.

Todd Maxwell:  It's an interesting approach, I like how you guys did that. That's good advice for other agencies that are getting RFPs and that vendor may not have their own redaction and tagging tool, but to have them recommend how they would handle it, because that's a big piece. I appreciate you sharing that.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Yeah. You know, that's actually probably the biggest piece. All of the cameras that we, well, some might have felt flimsier than others, a personal choice as you're looking at the camera, but buying of the camera is really the easiest piece. You buy the camera and then putting it on the officer's body, and even the recording of that data. But then it's really the storage of that. And how, again, when something needs to be redacted, redacting video software, where it sounds like it's getting easier and easier now, as far as with some of the tools that are out there. But we wanted the vendor to tell us, "Okay, here's our camera. Here's the on/off button, here's how it records," or what have you.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: And then also, and we recommend, the vendor may say we don't even offer a solution on the back end. You have to then store that data somewhere else, just like we all do with whatever video camera we might have. Once it's filled up on the camera itself, how do you download it, where you download it. Some vendors may say that's your decision to make, and we don't offer that. But in this proposal, we made them tell us, if they wanted to be taken seriously, how do you recommend we store your data? And what's the best use of it that you see it, and how much would that cost? And if they don't have an answer for that, then my assumption will be that we probably won't spend a whole lot of time looking at them.

Todd Maxwell:  Appreciate that. So earlier you mentioned a lot of the costs that are incurred and that you guys were one of three agencies that received grants from Department of Justice. How well do you feel your agency is equipped to handle costs after those grants? You mentioned the day-to-day operations and the eventual storage after the first year or two. Maybe you can talk about how you guys plan to deal with that going forward for advice for agencies that might be looking to do the same?

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Yeah, although we have this grant, we are still not going to just buy all like, "Ooh, we may buy all the cameras at once." We're not going to deploy them at once. We're going to be going into it very slowly. So we're looking at maybe somewhere between 10 and 20% of rollout of the cameras, and then see how it's working as the court system needs them, how the storage is going. And so we're really going to take our time with this. And so anyone else that didn't have a grant is probably going to have to do some similar things, because that initial cost, depending on the size of the agency, obviously, it can be very expensive. And so, as we're looking at this, we started with a three year window.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: And so when we put out our request for proposals, we wanted to see the camera. We wanted to see, again, the video storage, where it was going to be stored. But then also, how much it was going to cost for the next three years. We wanted them to give us the price of three years’ worth of data so that we can then turn that over to our city hall and make sure our elected officials know as well, the road we're going down, how expensive it's going to be.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: And so that cost is absolutely something that we need to be looking at because we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially a year. And so for planning purposes, we need to know that. And so we're at least three years out planning on that. So each agency is obviously going to have to decide for themselves. I think most would probably see the benefits of it, but whether or not they can actually, depending on the size of the agency, actually pay for it over the coming years, that really at some point becomes one of the more difficult tests is finding that sustained funding. And in Elgin, we're putting it into the budget, but again, we've got this three year purchase and the grant helps us with 50% matching. So we now then, really, will start having to spend on this. At least we'll have the first few years down with what we're trying to accomplish.

Todd Maxwell:  I just wanted to say thank you, Chief, for joining us and sharing your thoughts and experience on these topics. I really appreciate it.

Chief Jeffrey Swoboda: Well, thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it. It was a nice conversation.

Todd Maxwell:  We encourage law enforcement, justice, public safety leaders, whose agencies are interested in learning more about the implementation of body-worn camera programs to visit The Bodywork Toolkit at www.bja.gov/bwc. The toolkit offers a variety of resources that agencies can use with the help, help with the adoption and use of community engagement, policy developed data collection, officer trainees, educational purposes. We also encourage listeners to share resources with your colleagues and staff. Lastly, all these resources, especially the body-worn camera toolkit have been designed as a national resource. You're a resource. You submit your ideas for new content through the BWC support link found on the home page.

Todd Maxwell:  Todd Maxwell's Bureau of Justice Assistance's Body-Worn Camera Team signing off. Thanks for joining us.

Date Created: August 10, 2020