Police add video camera to patrol car

November 4, 2008

By Jim Feehan

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As part of a pilot program, Newcastle police have installed a video camera in one of their police cars. 

The camera is located near the rear view mirror and aimed at both the back seat and the front of the cruiser. An officer, who wears a wireless microphone, can activate the unit from outside the car. 

The recordings also get activated automatically, when the officer travels in excess of 80 miles per hour or when the emergency lights are on. Because the camera is always on, it can capture video 60 seconds before the emergency lights come on, allowing the initial incident to be recorded.

“The cameras improve officer safety and they serve as a great device in evaluating your own performance,” Police Chief Melinda Irvine said.

Officers can instantly transmit video to a police station. Instead of storing tapes in a warehouse, digital displays can be kept on hard drives. The units also have an integrated, built-in GPS, Irvine said.  

During a routine traffic stop, an officer could review his work.

“The officer could ask, ‘Am I too far in traffic?’” she said

The cameras help paint a picture of “what really happened and what was really said” in the field. The device can also record collisions in real time, Irvine said.

The cameras, manufactured by ICOP Digital Inc., cost $6,000 each, so the city is installing only one in Officer Tony Lockhart’s police car. Lockhart was selected because he’s very tech savvy and he researched the selection of the camera, Irvine said.

Also, “he works the busiest shift (swing shift) and runs the most traffic,” she said.

Newcastle police received a $5,000 gift from William Ryan Select, an international trading company and consulting company in Bellevue, to buy a second camera.

The camera is a good tool in traffic enforcement, particularly regarding motorists who run stop signs.

“Inherently, you always have people who swear they didn’t run the stop sign,” Lockhart said. “Now, I can offer to show them video of themselves running the stop sign.”

The cameras can also protect officers from allegations of racial profiling or harassment, Lockhart said.

Doug Honig, a spokesman with the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state, said the cameras could be useful for police accountability.

“The camera can provide an objective view,” he said.

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