"Fight club" at Fennville High School is under investigation

Also: Fennville police test body cams
By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

Fennville Police Chief Greg Rekucki said this week that an investigation into students in Fennville Public Schools participating in what he described as a “fight club” was nearing completion.

According to draft minutes of the Fennville City Commission’s Dec. 17 meeting, Rekucki told them the fight club was at the high school, taking place in the bathrooms.

On Wednesday, he said the reports about the investigation were largely written, with a few more planned, and soon would be turned over to the Allegan County Prosecutor’s office to determine charges.

Until then, however, he said no further details could be shared.

In other news:

• The police department is in the process of purchasing two video cameras for on-duty officers, a new practice for the department.

Rekucki said Wednesday he is testing the first one currently.

“I like this use of technology,” he said. “I think it will result in big cost savings and it makes this department very transparent. We used them all the time in Grand Rapids where I worked before here.”

The wireless units mount to the dashboard of the patrol car to record video there until the officers exit the vehicle, when they can attach it to their uniform. Made by Florida-based Point Blank Enterprises Inc., the units are called Iris Cams.

Allegan County News correspondent and commission member Jim Hayden wrote on his Bicycle Base Fennville blog that the department plans to buy two units at $439 each and spend about $200 on a 5 terabyte hard drive to store the video.

“I think it’s a great device,” Rekucki said. The cameras will assist in writing police reports, collecting evidence and training.

Before the cameras can be used on actual duty, the city needs to adopt a policy governing their use and how the information will be stored and used.

Rekucki said this week that the policy had been written to govern their use; it awaited commission approval. Broadly speaking, it would require officers to begin recording at the start of traffic stops and any time they interact with the public.

He sees the devices saving time and effort due to the evidence they will provide. In Grand Rapids, he recalled needing to give only cursory testimony and then was able to simply show video proving an offense.

“I recall sitting at... an area with construction, so there were no left turns,” he said. “I didn’t even have to say much; it was just obvious in the video. We’d use it in court all the time.”

Video can also be switched off for interviews.

He said, “That lets us, due to HIPAA law, shut off video but still capture audio when we’re in a hospital or at a sensitive crime scene or when we’re interviewing a victim of criminal sexual conduct.”

He said approval to purchase the cameras and equipment was expected at the city commission’s next meeting.

“Once we’re trained, I think we could see them in active use in about a month,” Rekucki said. “It’s about four hours of training.”

The department has Rekucki as its lone, full-time officer in addition to four part-time officers. Rekucki said he was seeking a grant to fund another full-time position. The department has one patrol car, though he’s looking to add a second in the next fiscal year, which starts in July.

• Hayden also reported that law enforcement-related complaints were up in the 2018 calendar year as compared to 2018, according to statistics released at the Dec. 17 commission meeting.

In 2017, Fennville police responded to 301 complaints. In 2018, the department responded to 418 total complaints, an increase of 117 incidents.

The increase is due to more policing and “just more complaints,” Rekucki said.

Through Dec. 1, the city police handled 28 general assists, 23 suspicious situations, 10 lost and found property issues and 10 abandoned vehicles.

Other numbers include one possession of methamphetamines, two drug arrests for marijuana, cocaine and heroin, two child abuse complaints, two criminal sexual conduct cases, two assaults, one fight and one report of gunshots.

• Hayden said the Dec. 17 meeting also noted that Fennville parking fines will go to the city instead of the state or county thanks to an ordinance given preliminary approval by the city commission.

Rekucki said, “The laws are exactly the same. It’s just that we’re collecting the fines.”

The Uniform Traffic Code ordinance amendment introduced that night must be approved at the next meeting, then published, before going into effect.

Currently, tickets for certain parking violations are written under state code and sent to Allegan County for collection—meaning the city receives about a third of the revenue.

Hayden said the new rule would mean the city gets more money from fines such as parking in front of a fire hydrant, blocking sidewalks or unapproved parking in a handicapped spot, according Rekucki.

A handicap parking violation is $100. All others are $25.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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