Houston & Peach

New in-car cameras give Centerville police extra eyes on the road

CENTERVILLE -- Police supervisors at the station can now see in real time what officers are seeing on the road.

Using a new in-car camera system, “we can access what the officer is seeing out the front window of that car via the Internet or an app on a smartphone,” Centerville police Chief Sid Andrews said. “We can see anything that they’re doing live any time of the day.”

CopTrax, made by Stalker, is an Internet-based software program that also allows events recorded at traffic stops and other service calls to be stored in the cloud. The cameras are real time as long as an officer is in service.

Also, the cameras automatically record when lights and sirens are turned on, or the officer may start a recording at any given time. Policy requires officers to record all traffic stops and service calls, Andrews said.

He said the main advantage of in-car cameras for any law enforcement agency is officer safety.

“It protects the officer against false complaints,” Andrews said. “On the other side of the spectrum, if there is a valid complaint made by a citizen, it is documented through the video and audio in that car. So it works both ways for the officer and the citizen.”

In addition, Andrews said, “If there’s anything out there going on that we hear on the radio, that an officer may be in danger, something that concerns us, we can, at any time, pull up the video live.”

An additional camera faces the car’s back seat where a suspect would sit.

When an officer finishes a traffic stop or other call, the officer clicks the save button, enters a case number, any field notes and the video is automatically stored to the cloud, Andrews said.

Older in-car camera systems required burning a DVD, with videos and pictures taking up large amounts of space on a server, he said.

The agency spent about $45,000 to equip its seven patrol vehicles with the system, Andrews said. Also, the cameras can be replaced inexpensively without having to pull a car out of service for the repair, he said.

The agency has been using the system for about two months.

Capt. Roger Hayes, who is over the patrol division, uses a smartphone app to see everything that Andrews can view from his office computer.

The app also can use a cellphone camera to film crime scene evidence, which is immediately stored to the cloud, Hayes said.

“The neat thing about it is ... when an attorney or the district attorney or state court needs a copy of the video, they send us an evidence request. The only thing we have to do now is send them a link,” Hayes said.

“... If they need a hard copy of it, we can email them another link that they can simply download it themselves. So it’s created a lot more efficiency and greenness if you would for us because the investigators don’t have to drive ... to get a copy of the tape.”

Assistant Chief W.G. Cooley said the system includes a feature some residents may find useful.

The agency offers a house watch program when residents go on vacation. CopTrax enhances that service. It has a GPS-enabled mapping system that allows the agency to draw a geographical fence around the home that works like an invisible fence and can alert the resident by email or text each time an officer checks on the home, Cooley said.

Sgt. Paul Hollar, whose patrol car is equipped with the system, gave it a thumbs up.

“The camera is a very productive tool,” Hollar said. “We can use it to capture video and audio. We can also take still pictures.

“If we have someone that we want to keep a picture of for future reference as a suspect, we can have them stand in front of the car and take a picture of them with the new camera system.”

He favors the camera because it offers him protection against false accusations.

“The best thing about it is it protects us because there are people, unfortunately, that will call and make complaints against officers that are proven to be untrue,” Hollar said.

He said he’s not intimidated knowing that his supervisors can see what he’s doing at any given moment.

“As long as you do the right thing, then you have nothing to worry about,” Hollar said.

Centerville police learned about CopTrax from Byron police, Andrews said. The Peach County Sheriff’s Office also uses the same in-car camera system.

Byron police Chief Wesley Cannon had nothing but praise for the CopTrax system. His agency has been using it for about a year and was among the first in the state to adopt it.

Cannon noted the absence of storage issues to cost effectiveness to ease of repair and quick access to support services. He especially likes the feature that allows a supervisor to gauge how a new recruit handles himself on the job without having to physically respond to a call with the new officer.

“So it frees up our resources,” Cannon said.

Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese said he especially likes being able to use the cloud storage over the expensive servers once required to maintain in-car camera videos.

“It’s so much easier on us,” he said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.