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01/26/2005

Smile! You Might Be On Cop Cam

By Michelle Esteban, KOMO 1000 News

SEATTLE - Smile, you may be on the cop-cam.

Most Seattle police officers ride alone in their patrol cars, but not anymore.

The bulk of the officers are getting a new high tech partner: a digital camera. The cameras do three things: create instant evidence, protect officers and boost public confidence.

The minute the flashing lights go on, the digital video camera starts to roll. By this time next year, nearly half of the Seattle Police department's patrol car fleet will be equipped with digital cameras recording every move. "He decides he wants to catch a license plate or what's going on is someone's car...he has an automatic zoom-in feature he can just touch that," says Officer Bill Alcayaga. At $5,000 each, the high tech gizmos can see in the dark, in fog and always tell the truth. "Our ability to deal with false complaints is crucial," says City Attorney Tim Carr.

Carr says using the digital cameras in a pilot program helped disprove a false complaint. He says a citizen complained that an officer mistreated him. The videotape showed the officer did not.

"By going to digital and download through wireless system, it's gonna make a huge difference," says Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

That means, whatever is recorded cannot be alerted. It's immediately downloaded to a secured main server. It's now evidence that's just a mouse click away.

"Digital cameras allow us to help build trust between the community and the police department," says Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. It records video and audio and when officers roll on a scene. It announces on a speaker: "You are being recorded." Police officers are embracing the equipment -- especially since they ride alone, the camera is like a partner. And it can protect officers and boost public confidence.

Federal money will help pay for the new equipment. And about a hundred officers are already trained on it, with 80 cars equipped. Up until now, the city was relying on VHS cameras, but the tapes were hard to search through and store.

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