Round Lake Park Police suspend body cam program after privacy violations

The first police department in Lake County to use body cams is now suspending the program.

The cameras were inadvertently still rolling while officers used the bathroom and in other private moments, and those officers are now considering a lawsuit.

Body cams are quickly becoming an everyday tool in law enforcement. Chicago’s police department is ordering thousands. But there have been concerns raised about violations of privacy.

And for one suburban police agency, that concern is now a reality.

A recent body cam recording shows a Round Lake Park police officer behind the wheel of his squad car returning to the station. He says hello to a couple colleagues and then goes inside to use the restroom.

But he doesn't realize his body cam is recording all of it.

"It was very disturbing when I found out. I was floored by it,” said Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko.

Filenko has now suspended the department's body cam program after it was discovered over the weekend the cameras were continuing to record even when they were turned off.

"Well the concern about it is if you don't know the cameras are on.... obviously... there's some recordings that could occur that are private nature. You don't want them,” Filenko said.

Filenko says the cameras are only supposed to record when activated by an officer during a traffic stop or any other interaction with the public, and then stop recording when the officer presses a button to turn the camera off.

He says all of the 13-officer department's cameras were unknowingly turned to a setting that records everything, but only downloads into police computers the video the officers' intended to record.

FOX 32 has learned a group of officers has retained a Chicago lawyer to explore whether any civil liberties or state laws were violated. Those officers are also questioning whether the department intended to spy on them.

Filenko denies that, and says he has ordered an independent investigation into what went wrong.

"We don't want to have the perception that there was any type of collusion or any type of nefarious plan on our part to watch the officers 24 hours a day. This is something we were completely, absolutely unaware of,” Filenko said.

In a statement, the manufacturer of the Watch Guard bodycams says: "We believe the video being discussed exists as a function of Record-After-The-Fact, a proprietary evidentiary tool that allows a department to 'recapture' video of an incident if an officer fails to activate a recording... This feature can be enabled or disabled by department administration."

Chief Filenko says the company on Monday upgraded the software so that the cameras will only record when intended, but he says there will be several weeks of field testing before they're put back into service. All the video captured earlier has apparently been deleted. The attorney for the officers is seeking an order to protect that evidence in case there is a lawsuit.