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Peru PD puts body cams to work

BY JARED KEEVER - jkeever@perutribune.com

Officers with the Peru Police Department will be sporting a new addition to their uniforms after city officials, this week, adopted policies and procedures for how body worn cameras will be used in the field.

“Today was actually the first mandatory day,” Police Chief Michael Meeks told the Tribune on Wednesday.

That was the first full day of work after the city’s Board of Works voted to adopt the department’s General Order 35, which addresses the fleet and body worn cameras.

The night before, the City Council approved a measure outlining fees and policies associated with the release of the cameras’ recordings, should they be requested.

All of that, Meeks explained, finalized a years-long process of getting the cameras onto the city’s streets.

And getting that done is something that he said he had wanted to do since taking his position in January 2016.

The problem back then was that there were still plenty of questions about how to manage and store the data.

“We were basically waiting for the state of Indiana to set some precedents,” he said.

In the meantime, he and others met with five or six other departments to hash out procedures about how and when to turn the cameras on – Meeks said Wednesday his officers are instructed now to turn them on “anytime we have a citizen encounter.”

Doing so, he said, provides a sort of two-way protection should there ever be a question about an encounter. Not only can someone reviewing the video make sure the officer behaved appropriately, but the veracity of a citizen complaint can also be checked.

They also settled on a timeline for keeping their data, with misdemeanor arrests being held for two years and felony arrests for five.

Since the City Council had already approved the expenditure for the program (the equipment is provided free, with the city paying only for storage and maintenance of the data), Meeks said many of his officers have been using them in the field for the past few weeks and have already encountered situations where they proved useful.

One situation he referenced was a call to a home where a mother was having a problem with a juvenile child who, at one point during an encounter made some threatening gestures.

Three officers were at the home for about 40 minutes before the situation was defused.

“But it was one of those deals where it could have ended bad,” Meeks said.

Had it, they all would have had camera footage to verify what happened and why, and even now, they have it to use for training in how to reach a desired outcome.

Given all of that, Meeks said that he feels taking the three years it took to get the equipment in the field was well worth it.

“We think we set ourselves up really well by waiting,” he said.