Police video cameras to go digital

By Scott Ray
Daily Herald Staff Writer

Some people pay their traffic tickets. Others try to fight them.

But soon it may be more difficult for drivers ticketed in Lake in the Hills to get off the hook because the police department will have the ability to document their every move.

The Lake in the Hills Police Department has been selected by a downstate company, Decatur Electronics, as one of four sites nationwide to test in-squad digital video recorders, said police Sgt. Don Fowler.

The department now uses analog video cameras in half the village''s 12 squad cars but will be upgrading them to digital in March. The move will help build more solid cases against speeding motorists and in DUI cases.

The Hi-8 cameras now mounted on the dashboards record incidents only when the emergency lights are activated, often missing chance to tape an actual offense, Fowler said.

"You can''t pull someone over until they commit a traffic offense," said Fowler. "And by the time an officer witnesses that, it has already occurred and goes undocumented."

But the digital recorders have the capability to record images constantly and can be set to automatically store images two minutes before the lights are activated - usually catching motorists in the act, said Fowler.

Another benefit of going digital, Fowler said, is that police will be able to do away with lower-quality analog tapes and will have the ability to better enhance digital images, such as license plate numbers.

"The difference can be compared to a 1970s television to what an HDTV is now," said Fowler.

Each camera is estimated to cost the village approximately $5,000, double the price of an analog camera, but Deputy Chief Alan Bokowski said it''s a small price to pay for the capabilities offered.

"Down the road these cameras can be updated to provide the department with streaming video so dispatchers can keep an eye on officers in real time," said Bokowski.

The village will join three other departments - in Ohio, Florida and California - in the pilot program, but digital video recorders are nothing new in the Fox Valley area.

In September 2002 the Elgin Police Department secured a $212,000 state grant and a $40,000 federal grant, enabling it to become one of the first departments nationally to equip 22 of its police cruisers with the high-tech recorders.

"They have been working very well for us," said Elgin police Lt. Paul McCurtain. "The clarity of the equipment is just top-notch."

McCurtain said the cameras have been used to document and build dozens of solid cases against DUI and traffic offenders, leading to convictions in court.

"All they have to do is show it," said McCurtain. "Instead of an officer''s word, they have documented proof of what happened."

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