'When, Not If': Chief Anticipates PPD Officers Will Wear Cameras

Mar 15, 2017

Detective James Feehan holds up one of three body cameras that will be worn by officers for the pilot project that launches March 20.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

The Peoria Police Department is taking a “wait and see” approach before formulating a policy on body cameras.

The PPD announced Tues. it’s testing out three cameras, one for each shift, starting next week. It’s unclear how the department will handle certain situations, like sharing footage with the public under Freedom of Information Act requests. Detective James Feehan says Illinois' Law Enforcement Officer Worn Body Camera Act determines what content can be shared with the public.

“If it’s not a flagged video, such as an arrest, and the person has an expectation of privacy, we have to reach out to those individuals and seek their consent first, before we can release it, if we’re able to release it,” Feehan said. 

Peoria Police Detective James Feehan, Chief Jerry Mitchell and Project Manager Denise Backes met with reporters Wed. to take questions on the department's
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

As the PPD launches the pilot program for the new cameras, the department is also awaiting results of a grant application for $300,000 to equip every officer. Police Chief Jerry Mitchell says part of those funds could be used to support an additional staff member to handle FOIA requests. 

The effort, nearly two years in the making, echoes the national trend playing out in cities across the country. Particularly after publicized police shootings, like in Ferguson and Baltimore.

"For most departments, it's a matter of when, not if," Mitchell said. "I would imagine, a few years from now, it would be hard to find a department, particularly of our size, that is not going to equip their officers with body-worn cameras."

The department doesn’t have a backup plan if the funding doesn’t come through. Mitchell says it would be up to City Council to decide whether to fully fund the initiative. The grant decision is expected in July.