Area towns seek funds for body cameras

Area towns seek funds for body cameras

One of the new laws that went into effect in Illinois in January was one regarding the use of body cameras by police — though it did not require departments to begin using them if they were not already doing so, it did set up strict guidelines for the departments that were using them or were planning to start using them.

The problem, though, is that body cameras cost hundreds of dollars each, depending on the model, and those are funds that many small police departments do not have. That’s why two Macoupin County police departments — Benld and Palmyra — have taken it upon themselves to start fundraisers through bodycameradonations.com, a website that supplies body cameras at a lower cost for agencies seeking donations. Each camera purchased with donations costs $275 (including shipping).

Palmyra has been using Pro-Vision brand’s “Body Cam” cameras, but they do not fit the new Illinois rules, which require the cameras to have a 30-second pre-record feature and to last for an entire shift. “They’re considered out of date and we can’t use them in court,” said Palmyra Police Chief Wayman Meredith, noting that his department originally purchased the cameras for officer safety due to the town’s rural location, which means the nearest backup officer is usually 15 to 20 minutes away.

Meredith explained that the camera help his department discover discrepancies in reports. “Every time we get a public complaint, the person needs to fill out an affidavit. Then we go watch the video and it catches the lies in their affidavit,” he said. “I haven’t had one complaint that wasn’t a lie yet, proven by the body camera footage. So it saves our department time and money in false complaints.” He mentioned one specific incident, as well: “We had a case six months ago where a guy admitted on body camera to throwing the first punch in a fight. Later he changed his story, but we got it on body camera, so we caught that person in a lie.”

“Body cameras are an asset; if something were to happen, we can have video evidence, so it’s for our officers’ protection and the protection of the citizens,” said Benld Police Chief Jim Zirkelbach. “If we can capture events on video, we can show the public what happened and exactly how our officers responded. It’s for everyone’s benefit.”

Zirkelbach said that cameras would have been helpful in a previous incident handled by his officers. “We had a situation a few years ago where a guy went off in a bar and they locked him out, but he came back and kicked the door in and caused a scene, then went home. Our officers responded to his home and he came at them with a butcher knife. Fortunately, our officers did not have to use deadly force [and] were able to tase him, but afterward his girlfriend filed a complaint alleging that there was no reason for our officers to have tased him and that he did not attack them. A body camera would have captured all the evidence we need to prove exactly what happened in that situation.”

Each department has set a goal of receiving six body cameras. As Palmyra Police Department’s previous cameras were purchased only about a year ago, Meredith doesn’t expect the village would want to spend the money again for more cameras so soon. Benld simply doesn’t have money in the budget to fund them.

As of press time, the website stated Palmyra had not yet received any donations; Benld had received $25. At Monday evening’s Benld City Council meeting, Benld Mayor Gloria Sidar stated approximately $250 in donations had been brought into city hall that morning; they were not yet reflected on the website.

To contribute to the fundraisers, visit bodycameradonations.com/donate-now; select the option to donate to a specific agency, then type the agency’s name in the “search agencies” field. Alternatively, donations can be sent to the website’s general fund, which means they will go to the next department in line to receive body cameras. At this time, the website is not a tax-exempt organization, so contributions to the fundraisers are not tax deductible.

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