Clovis police department goes digital

Travis Hardin, a radio technician with Yucca Telecom works inside the trunk of a Clovis police cruiser Monday. Hardin is part of a two-man team installing new digital camera systems in 18 patrol units. (CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson)

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

Digital camera systems will soon make videotapes a thing of the past for Clovis Police Department patrolmen.

Officers will go from turning in bulky videotapes of their shifts to uploading data to a computer server with the option of burning DVDs later, police Capt. Patrick Whitney said.

Video recording units have been used by Clovis police for more than a decade, Whitney said.

Nationwide, law enforcement has been moving to digital systems because they have higher quality, streamlined documentation capabilities and utilize less storage space.

Named Digital Patroller, the system is the newest available to law enforcement, he said.

Half of the department’s 36 marked units will be equipped with the upgraded systems when installation is complete, department officials said.

The price tag for the 18 units is about $80,000. Some of the money was drawn from grant entitlements and department coffers while more than half was allocated by the city, according to Whitney.

The ultimate goal is to have a system in every car.

Activation of the cruiser’s lights or sirens starts the recording. When the patrol unit stops, the camera zooms forward to capture the license plate of the vehicle being stopped, then backs off to a wide-angle shot, Whitney explained. Officers can also manually start the recording.

Sound is captured through a microphone on the officer’s lapel. The audio recording continues, even if the officer steps out of camera range; for example when responding to a residence or business.

A second camera is trained on the patrol unit’s back seat. Beneath the seat, a hidden microphone records conversations and statements made by those in custody, Whitney said.

Whitney explained the investigative value of the interior microphones can prove invaluable for prosecution.

“(Prisoners) have no expectation of privacy in the back of a police car,” Whitney said.

Notations drawn from integrated GPS record the position and speed of the cruiser add to documentation capabilities for later reference.

Once uploaded to the server, footage can be accessed by supervisors and records personnel for reference, Whitney said.

Having video footage of traffic stops has proven critical to prosecution and often helps to resolve complaints against officers, Whitney explained.

“(Video) protects the officers from false allegations of wrongdoing by some in the public and serves as an administrative documentation for supervisors if officers do something inappropriate. It documents and protects the police and the public,” he said.

By the numbers

Maximum minutes it takes for officers to upload footage from an eight-hour shift.

Cost of one complete vehicle unit

Hours of footage the onboard hard drive can store

Approximate days footage might be stored on the server unless needed for trial, in which case it will be burned to DVD