Patrol car cameras prove useful to cops

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 29, 1999

In the day-to-day experiences of police officers, technology has been both friend and foe. High tech equipment used by criminals often makes it tougher for law enforcement officials to do their jobs. But, police departments everywhere have learned that technology also can be used to their advantage.

The Greenville Police Department has found one piece of equipment to be especially useful. Mobile camera units attached to the inside of police patrol vehicles have proved to be worth every penny it takes to purchase them.

At a recent city council meeting, the police department received approval for the purchase of five of these camera units to go along with the eleven they already had installed and have been operational for the past five years.

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Police Chief Lonzo Ingram said that the in-car cameras serve law enforcement officers in many ways. From giving them leads on crimes they may investigate to earning a conviction in a courtroom. But, he said the most important function is that it helps protect officers.

"One of the best

functions these cameras

is to help ensure safety to our police officers," Ingram said. "If an officer has stopped a vehicle and the suspect begins firing a weapon we have everything on tape, from a tag number, description of the vehicle and even a description of the suspect."

Because the cameras come with a body microphone that officers wear on their uniform, the camera units also help protect the officers when their honesty and credibility is being attacked by those that they have arrested, stopped or interviewed.

"It documents what is being said. Many times we have people claiming that an officer said this or did that. Having the tape allows us to go back and find out what had really been said and done," Ingram said.

Another major advantage of police cars being equipped with the mobile camera units is that they can be beneficial to the officers and the district attorney when it comes time to take a suspect to court.

"They (cameras) are great when it comes to being used as evidence in court. D.U.I (driving under the influence) cases where the driver becomes violent," he said. "The camera gives us evidence that we can play back to a judge and a jury if it goes that far."

The cameras automatically become activated anytime that an officer turns on his vehicle's blue lights. They can also be turned on manually at any time by officers in case they choose not to display their lights.

The cameras that the police department has recently ordered comes with a $3,895 price tag. But, that price was so fair that the council opted to go ahead and order five instead of the requested four. It is the goal of the police department to someday have the cameras in all of their patrol cars. Currently, the cameras are being used in vehicles that patrol during high-activity shifts.

Ingram said that the cameras have proven to be a good investment and that they provide a very important function in modern-day law enforcement.

"The use of these cameras has been very positive for our department," he said. "We eventually would like to have a unit in each patrol car. They are a very valuable asset for law enforcement, especially in the climate we have to work in today."