Beloit police hope body cams build community trust

Department will have about 60 body cams

Beloit police officers will soon have a new addition to their uniforms: body cameras.

Chief David Zibolski said that by the end of the year, all officers in the field will wear a body camera.

“I think it’s huge for the community just in terms of transparency and the ability to see what the officers are doing and what the officers are seeing, as well,” Zibolski said.

The department purchased about 10 body cameras back in 2014, but they were never used in the field. Those will be updated, and the department will also buy more cameras to have a total of about 60.

“I think it’s an absolutely great thing. It’s going to be very, very helpful for our communities of color especially,” Bill Conover, spiritual life program director at Beloit College and a member of Black Lives Matter Beloit, said.

The officers will wear the body cameras at eye level.

“It’s got to be on your head. It’s got to be where your eyes and where the officer is looking,” Zibolski said. “When we talk about use of deadly force type of situation, it’s the perception of the officer, and what the officer is seeing and looking at, that really matters the most, not where a camera happens to be pointed.”Beloit police hope body cams build community trust

Community members hope the transparency and accountability of officers wearing cameras in the field will help build trust.

“I used to teach at Beloit Memorial High School. I taught there for five years, and a lot of times, I would hear from my students that there was not a lot of trust from police,” Megan Miller, organizer of Beloit Together , said. “So I think this is a really good thing because I think it’s going to do a lot to mend relationships in sort of this national climate, where there are so many race issues and so much sort of lost trust.”

Zibolski said the cameras will be required to be turned on during traffic and field stops, but officers will be allowed to turn them off during certain situations.

“There are instances when the camera isn’t appropriate,” Zibolski said. “We run into a lot of people who are having a lot of difficulties. Sometimes they’re not properly attired, and hospital settings and things of that magnitude. Sometimes we get into a sensitive investigation and a particular victim might not be talking on the camera to the investigator.”

He said the video footage would be uploaded after every shift, and the community would be able to request to view it like any other report.

“They’ve had dashboard cams for a long time. Now, these body cameras extend that,” Conover said. “Hopefully that evidence will make all of the wheels of justice run smoothly, effectively and above all, fairly.”