Lack of Funds Pauses Peoria, Ill., Body Camera Plan

A regional effort to outfit police officers with body cameras will have to wait until later this year when funding is available, officials say.

by Andy Kravetz, Journal Star / March 7, 2018

(TNS) — PEORIA, Ill. — Body cameras will not be issued to Peoria police officers until at least mid-summer, the interim police chief said this week.

But Lorien Marion, who was recently tapped to head the Peoria Police Department, said the delay is only from mid-spring to mid-summer. The department, he reiterated, will have body cameras soon. He did say the delay would allow Peoria to examine cheaper ways to store the footage.

Three departments — Peoria Heights, Chillicothe and Bartonville — have dropped out of a regional effort to use Department of Justice dollars to obtain body cameras. The reason, those departments say, is money.

"The first estimate was a lot less than the final one that came in," said Chillicothe Police Chief Scott Mettille. "Some of the technology that we first talked about has changed over time."

Last year, the Peoria Police Department announced it was participating in a two-year, $253,000 federal grant that will pay for 285 cameras and the storage needed to hold the archived footage for the seven departments.

The departments remaining in the grant are Peoria, the Peoria County Sheriff's Office, the East Peoria Police Department and the Peoria Park District. Marion and others have said the cost for the cameras shouldn't change dramatically as the number Peoria Heights, Chillicothe or Bartonville would have used was fairly small compared to the overall order. Marion said he didn't know if having three departments withdraw would alter the size of the grant.

Marion said his department is going to redo bidding to re-examine both the cameras as well as the type of storage for the data — cloud-based vs. having a dedicated server. It's possible the grant could be modified, and that could affect the cost for both the city of Peoria as well as others.

"It could affect it a little, but when you weigh how much the grant is, then you could get a little bit more out of it because of the agencies that dropped out. But we'll have to look at pricing and then at server-based storage as well as cloud," he said.

But in Bartonville, which purchased body cameras on its own in 2016, police Chief Brian Fengel said his officers couldn't be happier with the cameras. He had planned to use the grant to get similar cameras so all the departments would be using compatible systems, but he, too, said cost was a factor.

"We already have a dedicated server where we can store the footage," he said.

Bartonville had planned to use the grant to buy new cameras and use the old ones as backups, but the higher prices for storage caused the department to rethink that plan.

Fengel and his officers say they have embraced the cameras as a new tool, akin to in-dashboard cameras, Tasers, cellphones and computers. To them, it's a way to both protect the public and the officers.

Officer Fred Kerrn agreed, saying "it keeps everyone accountable for their actions."

In the year that Bartonville has used body cameras, the Peoria County State's Attorney's Office has asked for about 30 different videos for its prosecutions. Fengel said that is proof his program is working.

People have the right to ask that it be turned off when in their home. So far, however, Kerrn said, it hasn't been an issue, and most people seem to want the cameras.

And that's what Marion hopes will happen here in Peoria. He said he hopes to have a vendor lined up by May so the program could be in place by mid-summer.

©2018 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Tech Startups Can Help Revitalize Both Ends of Your Ballot