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CHARLESTON -- Encounters with city police will have more video transparency outside of the footage collected from squad vehicle dash cameras.

Along with the gun, the taser and the flashlight, Charleston and Mattoon officers will soon add body cameras to the list of equipment on their person, joining other officers across the country, including those in the Coles County Sheriff's Office.

The Charleston City Council has approved the purchase of 32 officer-worn cameras, as well as nine higher definition in-car cameras, for a total cost of $77,189 to be reimbursed through a grant awarded by the Illinois Training and Standards Board. 

The Charleston cameras will be operational and on the street by the mid- June.

Mattoon Police Department Deputy Chief Sam Gaines said the Mattoon department is waiting for the arrival of its body cameras and hopes to put the new equipment into service by early summer.

Gaines said he plans to have all of its patrol officers wear body cameras. He said this move is designed to promote transparency and has not been mandated by any other governmental organizations.

Charleston Department officials have been wanting body cameras for several years but were not able to obtain the funds to do so. It was situations like the one at 20th Street and Grant Avenue several weeks ago where body cameras would have been especially helpful, Charleston Police Chief Chad Reed said. At the start of the month, police were involved in a brief foot pursuit of the suspect of the Verizon Team Wireless store robbery through a neighborhood.

"It would've been video evidence of him running from us, despite being told to stop and get on the ground several times," Reed said.

Reed said the footage obtained by the equipment will better serve the investigations teams in finding evidence.

"The body camera sees better than the human eye," Reed said. "So you could review body camera footage on a case you were working, and maybe sees something that was tossed and you did not see it at the time."

For Reed and other officials at the Charleston Police Department, the cameras will also better protect the officers.

"Our officers want them," Reed said. "It protects the officers against complaints that are unfounded."

"It creates a culture of accountability, not only for the officers but for us," said Jesse Danley, Coles County state's attorney, said. Recordings usually confirm what the officer says happened and "any good officer" will say they prefer having a camera.

Reed said he was not nervous about the footage that might surface.

"Our guys, I feel, are doing it 100 percent right, every day and every night... not that we do not make mistakes," Reed said. "The body cameras will prove that."

Those on the other end of the legal divide are hailing body cameras as well. Terese Matthews, Coles County assistant public defender, said it will add a layer of transparency to interactions with police. She said it makes everyone accountable, both police and citizens.

"Video tells the truth," she said.

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In some cases, though, these cameras have been used in a misleading manner. Officers on the national stage have been investigated and, in some cases, indicted for turning off body cameras or turning them on in the middle of a call in an attempt to mislead or conceal evidence.

Reed said department policy will prevent that from happening. He said officers will be required to turn on their cameras when handling an official police matter. Reed noted the camera records a minute before it is turned on.

If they don't tun them on, that will be something the defense could point to in court, Matthews pointed out.

"(If the camera is turned off) it will raise questions," she said.

Coles County Sheriff's department implemented cameras more than a year ago.

In that time, county police officials say the cameras have been well received, noting they have already proved an to be an asset. Sheriff's Department Capt. Brian Huston said there have been instance where videos have been used to show a different side of complaints that have been lodged.

"The body camera itself, in a recent situation that I had to look into, showed that what was reported by a member of the community wasn't quite what was actually happening," Huston said. "It allowed us to be able to see that our officer did, in fact, do that which was trained."

Coles County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Tyler Heleine reiterated the potential use in the courtroom, although it has not been used so far. Danley said he hasn't handled any cases yet with a video from one of the cameras as evidence.

When used, Huston said it is supplemental support to reports and other evidence collected.

"It is not infallible," Huston said of the cameras.

In some instances, the camera turns off. The batteries wear. The cameras malfunction. Should the camera be turned off, Heleine said processes were already in place should a camera turn off, intentionally or not, during a call.

"It is no different from our in-car cameras," he said.

It is logged and replaced or fixed.

"That is always possible that someone -- if they have nefarious intent-- could, in fact, try to beat the system, but there are checks and balances in place," Huston said.

Heleine added it has not been an issue for the department so far.

The county is still in the process of fully transitioning to the latest Focus body cameras.

Eastern Illinois University Police Department is examining ways of funding the the purchase of body cameras, Police Chief Kent Martin said.  

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Contact Jarad Jarmon at (217) 238-6839. Follow him on Twitter: @JJarmonReporter

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Reporter

Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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