With only a handful of Macon’s police cars having working dashboard video cameras, the department will soon have new, state-of-the-art camera systems.
In fact, once the cameras are installed, Police Chief Mike Burns said, it will be a win-win situation for the police and residents.
“It’s a double-edged sword for officers,” Burns said of the cameras, which were approved last week by City Council. “They might do something (caught on camera) that could end their careers, but it could also rescue their careers if there’s a false complaint against an officer. Officers may act more professional if they know they are on tape.”
Burns said he hoped that 32 new cameras will be installed within the next few weeks. City administrators and Burns requested the cameras last year, and the council approved $96,600 in the fiscal 2009 budget to purchase them. Another 30 cameras have been approved in this fiscal year’s budget, but they won’t be purchased until next year.
After putting out requests for proposals and looking at a number of bids, officers tested several of the cameras before the department elected to go with a model made by a company in Decatur, Ill. Officer Brett Newman, who has served 12 years over two different stints with Macon police, said the cameras worked great during the tryout.
“I was very pleased,” Newman said. “The picture quality is great, and the sound quality is great.”
Newman said the cameras can zoom up to eight times and allows them to spot items such as drugs or weapons that are tossed from a vehicle during a chase.
Because the new system will use digital recording, Newman said officers instantly will be able to remove a disk, download it to a computer and e-mail the information. The old system used virtually obsolete VHS tapes, which made poorer quality recordings and were much more difficult to download to a computer.
Burns said the cameras can be activated manually by the officer or automatically when the officer turns on his flashing blue lights. Burns said the department also is working on a way to turn the cameras on automatically if the patrol car reaches a certain speed.
“As long as the lights are on, the camera will still be taping,” he said. “It will give us video that is admissible in court.”
In addition to the dashboard cameras that will film what is ahead of the patrol car, the system also allows for a camera to be mounted that focuses on a prisoner secured in the back seat.
“We’ll also have cameras inside the car, in case a prisoner tries to kick out the windows or spits on an officer,” Burns said.
Burns said the cameras also will provide useful teaching material to current officers and to potential officers at the police academy by showing them real-world situations.
Mostly, the cameras will protect officers in a number of ways. Should an officer be attacked after he or she pulls over a vehicle, the cameras will be able to capture the sound and video of the attack and make it easier for other officers to track down the perpetrator.
It also keeps officers safe from bogus complaints, Burns said. He cited a study conducted by the National Association of Chiefs of Police that said that of the recorded incidents between officers and civilians in which the civilian filed a complaint, 96.2 percent of the officers were exonerated because of the video evidence.
“Once it gets out that we have these cameras and we have it on video, we won’t have as many complaints,” Burns said. “I like them. It protects the officer from false accusations but also holds the officer accountable. I expect them to be professional.”
Newman said he and his fellow officers don’t mind being scrutinized by the cameras.
“Most of the guys I’ve talked to who are working traffic are looking forward to it,” he said.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.