(Photo by Leonna Essner, Staff)
Four new Decatur electronic in-car video cameras and a scholarship for a training session in Texas were donated to the Miner Police Department by a privately-funded Illinois foundation. Each camera unit costs between $4,000-$5,000.
It all began in September, when Miner Chief of Police Roger Moore received a phone call from Sikeston DPS Captain Joe Sebourne, stating he just talked to an individual wanting to give away video cameras for police cars, Moore recalled. Since Sikeston wasn't in need of any cameras and Miner was, Moore decided to give the individual, Richard G. Meadows, a call.
"We've talked at council meetings about getting these cameras, but the city couldn't afford them," Moore said. "Now by Mr. Meadows' graciousness, we have the capability of getting these cameras."
On Nov. 26, 1994, a drunk driver crossed the centerline on Highway 251 in Ogle County, Ill., killing Meadows' oldest daughter, Shawna, and his mother-in-law, Alleta Priest. His wife, Sandra, was also severely injured. They were only 15 miles from Meadows' home.
"My family had been another victim of drunk driving," Meadows said.
Two months after the death of his daughter, Meadows met with a the Ogle County Sheriff Mel Messer to discuss a way to decrease the number of drunk driving accidents and deaths. Their solution: in-car video cameras for police cars.
Meadows offered to buy the first two cameras for Ogle County. He kept track of statistics of the camera use and produced a detailed report that aided in the passing of a law, Public Act 91-0822, also known as "Shawna's Law," on June 13, 2000, which was drafted to generate funding for the equipment.
Shawna's Law added a $100 fine to all DUI tickets issued in the state of Illinois. The entire fine is sent to the arresting agency to purchase in-car video cameras, radar and laser speed detection devices, alcohol breath testers or related equipment.
What began as a local and personal endeavor has now turned into a statewide and regional effort for Meadows, president and founder of the Shawna LuAnn Meadows Memorial Foundation Inc. Meadows would like to see all states adopt similar legislation, he said Monday.
"We are strictly private funding," Meadows said. "We receive no government funds or grants."
In-car video cameras provide an eye-witness account, Meadows explained. They show sights, sounds, and they're evidence of actions, conditions and issues of circumstances, he added. Videos and microphones catch everything on tape, including sobriety tests. If someone says, "I could've passed it if I wasn't so drunk," or "I'm too drunk to take the test," then they're incriminating themselves, he added.
"Cameras don't lie," Meadows continued. "They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Well a video is worth 1 million." Moore said he hopes DWI cases will decrease as the DWI conviction rate increases in Miner.
According to a report by the Illinois State Police, Division of Operations, after Illinois' District No. 1 received the equipment, there was a 27 percent decrease in DUI arrests, 50 percent decrease in alcohol-related crashes, 42 percent increase in total citations/county roads, 75 percent increase in sped citations/county roads and 17 percent increase in speed citations/all roads.
In the near future, Miner Police Officer Don Massey will participate in a week-long training of equipment use at Houston, Texas. When Massey returns, he will demonstrate to the other officers how to use the equipment, Moore explained.
"I can't count how many times since September I've heard my officers say they wished we'd already had the cameras because it would've been great," Moore recalled.
For example, officers from the Miner Police Department recently stopped an individual and found 13 pounds of marijuana in the back of his vehicle, Moore explained. He said if they would've had the camera, they could've videotaped the whole investigation so that when the individual went to court he couldn't say, "It's not mine."
With these cameras, people are going to do one of two things, Moore predicted.
"Either they're not going to go through Miner while drinking and driving, or they're gonna go through Miner and get caught," Moore said. "We want people to know if they're driving drunk, they're taking a huge chance."