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More candid cameras on patrol

By Emily Block
Telegraph Herald

The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" has new meaning for the Clayton County (Iowa) Sheriff's Department.

In January, cameras were installed in five of the department's 11 patrol cars. The cameras are mounted on or near the windshield.

Sheriff Bob Hamann pointed out one example where a camera came in handy.

A driver pulled over for excessive speeding last week said someone else was guilty of the violation. Since "the tape doesn't lie," the department reviewed the recording of the incident and saw that the driver who was speeding turned onto another road.

While the department has not yet located the suspect, the camera provided some leads, Hamann said.

Squad-car cameras are becoming commonplace in law enforcement vehicles. Sgt. Harley Pothoff, of the Dubuque County Sheriff's Department, said all 10 of the patrol cars are equipped with the technology.

Every Iowa State Patrol car also is equipped with a camera, according to Jim Saunders, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety in Des Moines. The patrol started purchasing the cameras, which now cost about $$ @4,000, in 1993.

The video footage, which can be introduced as evidence in court, has been used by the Iowa State Patrol for everything from simple speeding traffic stops to federal felony narcotics arrests, Eick said.

In many cases, the cameras provide law enforcement with further evidence for operating while intoxicated charges.

Lt. Colin Fulrath, with the Jo Daviess County (Ill.) Sheriff's Department, said the video footage taken from the department's seven cameras is used nearly every time a drunken-driving case goes to trial. "It alleviates a lot of questions," said Fulrath, who added that many defense attorneys request to see the tape. Later, the defendants often plead guilty.

"When you see the guy stumbling and falling over, how would you defend something like that?"

But for some departments, it's hit-and-miss whether the traffic stop is recorded. Only two of the Dubuque Police Department's 16 patrol cars are equipped with a camera.

"Certainly, we have had situations where having a camera would have been beneficial," said Dubuque Asst. Police Chief Terry Tobin, citing instances when people resist arrests, flee on foot, or accuse officers of improper conduct. "If we had that on film, it's even stronger evidence."

Tobin said the department is seeking grants to equip more of the vehicles.

In addition, officers often wear microphones to capture conversation with citizens and allow law enforcement officials to narrate the traffic stop beforehand. Depending on the department, some cameras begin recording when the red lights are activated while others must be turned on manually.

"It's an accurate recording of what took place," said Lt. David Eick, with District 10 of the Iowa State Patrol, which covers Dubuque County. "You don't need to rely on memory."

A video camera is attached to a patrol car being driven Monday by Joseph Kennedy, of the Dubuque County Sheriff's Department. All 10 of the department's patrol cars are equipped with the cameras.

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