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New body cameras worn by East St. Louis police will help officers and citizens, chief says

Body camera on the uniform of an East St. Louis police officer on Oct. 16, 2023.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
Body camera on the uniform of an East St. Louis police officer on Monday.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Body cameras now worn by East St. Louis police officers will provide a sense of transparency for citizens and the Police Department, according to Chief Kendall Perry.

“We have had some incidents where officers were accused of being overly aggressive or abusive. We also have had some incidents where people have filed false police reports,” Perry said in an interview. “ This will be good for both sides because there will be transparency on both ends.”

Officers began wearing the cameras in September. All officers are equipped with them.

They were funded by a federal grant at a total cost of about $168,000. Each Motorola camera is about 2 inches tall.

“The citizens will be more confident in knowing that nothing will be swept under the rug,” the chief said. “The officers will have the chance now to dispel any complaints that they were overly aggressive or abusive.

Perry said sometimes officers are falsely accused of improper behavior, and this will protect them in those cases too.

“The officers and the citizens will be safer. And, the citizens will get a glimpse of what these officers go through on a day to day basis.”

Under state law, police agencies across Illinois are all required to begin wearing body cams by Jan 1. 2025. The body cam requirements are included in the state’s new criminal-justice reform provisions, called the SAFE-T Act.

Perry’s view that the cameras will protect both citizens and officers is widely held by leaders of other departments and public officials.

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which helped initiate the Illinois justice system reforms, has said the cameras will ensure that citizens are treated properly by police. Others also have said they will protect officers from false claims and help in investigations.

The challenge for local government is the expense of deploying body cams. Some, like East St. Louis, have applied for grants to help pay for them.

In Belleville, the City Council last year agreed to spend $820,000 to to purchase body-worn cameras for the city’s police officers, replace dashboard cameras on all of its patrol cars and install two cameras in each of the department’s five interview rooms.

“We have had them deployed in the field for over a year and they have been extremely popular with the men and women of the Belleville Police Department,”’ Assistant Police Chief Mark Heffernan said last week.

In East St. Louis, Chief Perry said all officers wear a camera when they are on duty, including the chief.

“They video record the whole 12-hour shift.The officer can push a button to activate the audio on the camera. And, the officers are required to push the button,” Perry said.

Asked about officers’ reaction to wearing the cameras, the chief said they will get used to them. “It’s going to be trial and error for a little while...a little uncomfortable, but everyone has to get used to wearing the cameras because it is going to be state law…”

The department has developed a set of guidelines that describes how officers are to use the cameras.

“We have a body camera policy that tells the officers when they are supposed to turn the cameras on, what they are supposed to do when they are out of their squad cars, what they are supposed to do when interacting with the citizens,” the chief said.

The policy also covers what happens when the mandatory requirements are not followed.

“There are different levels of discipline for each offense. We record all 12 hours of the 12-hour shift,” Perry said.

Carolyn P. Smith is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Carolyn P. Smith is a breaking news reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.