Police Officers Sue Bosses After Body Cams Watch Them Pee

Round Lake Park, Illinois, officers didn't realize everything they did was being recorded

I always feel like somebody's watching me — WatchGuard Video
Jun 28, 2016 at 11:03 AM ET

While the Chicago Police Department hopes bringing in body cameras will restore the public’s trust in its officers by promoting greater transparency, a town in its suburbs is encountering some growing pains on the road to transparency.

Round Lake Park, a small village located north of Chicago, abruptly suspended its body camera program in May, after officers realized that the cameras were recording all the time, including when they were using the bathroom, changing clothes, and other personal activities. Last week, 10 of those officers sued the village as well as the chief and deputy chief of police, saying their civil rights were violated and their privacy was invaded.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the cameras used by the department, made by WatchGuard Video, are always recording—even when switched to non-recording mode—unless someone with administrative access disables that feature. The only two people capable of doing this are Chief George Filenko and Deputy Chief Daniel Burch. Filenko told a local news station that he was “floored” when he heard the “very disturbing” news that the cameras were recording when officers thought they had turned them off.

More Police Body Cameras Reduce Use Of Force, If Cops Can’t Turn Them Off

Round Lake Park began its body camera program in August 2015, with Filenko saying at the time that “it took a national incident—Ferguson—to spotlight body cameras.” WatchGuard’s cameras have a patent pending feature called “Record-After-The-Fact” that records even when the camera hasn’t been switched on. That recording is saved temporarily, to be accessed and uploaded within that time if needed and overwritten if not. This is a feature that WatchGuard promotes in its brochures. WatchGuard’s spokesperson told the Tribune that police supervisors were trained how to disable the feature, and the officers themselves can “disable” it by turning the cameras off entirely. According to the lawsuit, officers had no idea this feature ever existed until one of them happened upon video of himself peeing when looking up footage.

Filenko told the Chicago Daily Herald that the officers who filed the lawsuit “jump[ed] the gun” and also refused to cooperate in the department’s investigation into the whole thing. The officers are asking for “in excess of” $100,000 for each of the 10 officers per count, and there are 15 counts. That’s at least $15 million.

While most of us will agree that your job shouldn’t have footage of you going to the bathroom, allowing officers to control when they can record incidents with the public has been shown to reduce their effectiveness. In a recent study from the University of Cambridge, when officers recorded every interaction, police use of force incidents dropped compared to officers who didn’t have cameras. But when they were selective about which incidents they recorded, use of force incidents rose by 71 percent compared to officers without cameras.