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Vernon Hills Police Chief Threatens To Yank Body Cameras From Officers If Illinois Criminal Justice Reform Bill Passes

VERNON HILLS, Ill. (CBS) -- Concerns were mounting Wednesday over a criminal justice reform bill awaiting the governor's signature.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported Wednesday night, the bill has one north suburban police chief threatening to yank body cameras from cops.

In Vernon Hills, all 44 sworn officers wear body cameras while on patrol.

The department rolled out devices in the fall of 2020, and since those officers hit the streets with cameras recording, it has been positive.

"I like the fact that there is an independent witness on every call," said Vernon Hills police Cmdr. Andrew Jones. "It's not just the he-said she-said anymore."

Jones said it has changed his approach to community policing.

"Now that we have them, I can't imagine police work without them," he said.

Yet, Jones and other officers in Vernon Hills could find their cameras staying on the charger indefinitely.

"This law goes way too far, and I'm afraid it puts officers in jeopardy," said Vernon Hills police Chief Patrick Kreis.

Kreis believes it is legal jeopardy – and that is why he plans on stopping every officer from using a body camera if Gov. JB Pritzker signs the current version of the criminal justice reform bill.

"This bill includes brand-new language, called the law enforcement misconduct, which defines that an officer who fails to comply with any part of the Body-Worn Camera Act – state law – they are per se committing a Class 3 felony," Kreis said. "Never before have I seen a case where a law is passed that criminalizes the act of violating a department policy."

Police-worn body cameras have proven to be beneficial across Illinois and throughout the nation.

Even Chief Kreis acknowledges the benefits, but he said if for any reason the officer's camera stops recording under this state law, the liability falls back on the officer to prove it wasn't intentional.

"It's simply not fair to put officers in a trick bag for a reason that we just simply can't understand," Kreis said.

Currently, officers can review body cameras to help write detailed reports. But that too would be banned.

"It really changes like the dynamic for the work product the officers are going to put out," Jones said.

The bill requires police departments to use body cameras, so Terry asked Chief Kreis how he can legally stop using them. He pointed out the requirement does not go into effect for another four years, and he hopes the law will be revised by then.

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