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August 28, 2007
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Ohio city police to get in-car cameras in squads

By Martin Rozenman
The Columbus Dispatch

HILLIARD, Ohio Hilliard police are adding eight digital video cameras to department patrol cars, joining other suburban departments that have the cameras in every cruiser.

The city plans to buy eight digital cameras next year to replace four VHS tape cameras and to equip the remaining four cruisers without cameras.

"The key use is to show suspects' actions as evidence," Hilliard Police Chief Rodney Garnett said.

The in-car cameras also are used to document accident and crime scenes, zoom in on images, record interviews and serve as evidence in court.

The cameras, which typically turn on with a car's emergency lights and siren, are "absolutely" a basic police tool, said Lt. Charles Chapman of the Columbus Police Division. "They're invaluable."

All cruisers have cameras in Dublin, Gahanna, Grandview, Grove City, Reynoldsburg, Upper Arlington and Whitehall.

All of the State Highway Patrol's 1,100 cruisers have in-car cameras, Lt. Shawn Davis said. The patrol has been using video cameras since 1993.

Westerville police plan to replace nonfunctional VHS cameras with digital equipment in patrol cars in the next two months, said Deputy Chief Del Robeson.

Chapman said less than half of Columbus' cruisers are equipped with cameras.

"They're a great tool, but they're damn expensive," Chapman said. "Every department's got priorities" and Columbus has "an aging fleet of patrol cars. It takes a lot of money to buy that many (cameras). You've got to have the cruiser first."

Columbus is planning to eventually outfit all of its cruisers. Mayor Michael B. Coleman promised in 2000 that every cruiser would get a camera.

The city is adding 75 cameras this year, bringing its total to 183 for its 338 cruisers, Lt. Ramona Patts said.

She said the cameras cost $6,500 each, and there are additional costs, including servers, storage space and software.

Highway Patrol Trooper Jim Cress' camera proved invaluable in proving what happened when a traffic stop went bad near Wilmington, Davis said.

"It clearly showed the subject trying to pull the weapon from the officer and trying to take the officer's life," Davis said.

Cress fatally wounded the man in the struggle, Davis said, but the video proved he was acting in self-defense.

In Columbus, Chapman said, "We have videos where people accused officers of being discourteous, and that was shown not to be true."

Officers are less likely to behave unprofessionally if they know they're on camera, he said.

And lawbreakers can't hide.

"If you get a DUI and you're doing a field-sobriety test on the scene, it's all on tape," Chapman said. "It's pretty hard to deny when you can't walk or can't talk.

"The tape doesn't lie."

Lt. Tom Hirschy of Dublin said an in-car camera "eliminates a judge, attorney or jury wondering if the officer misunderstood. It allows them to hear for themselves."

And the technology keeps improving.

Columbus is considering digital cameras that can send images through wireless networks, Patts said. Now, she said, the cameras use hard drives, and video images must be downloaded manually at the police property room.

Copyright 2007 The Columbus Dispatch

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