Medford cruisers to get cameras

MEDFORD — Remember to smile the next time you're pulled over by a Medford police officer, because you'll be on camera.

The department is fitting its fleet of patrol cars with high-tech digital cameras to record traffic stops and people cuffed and detained in the back-seat holding cage, said Medford police Sgt. Bob Sergi.

"The new system is all digital and very user-friendly," Sergi said. "We should have them ready to go in a few weeks."

The tiny camera system is attached to the ceiling above the windshield. Behind it is a small screen displaying the image.

The cameras cost about $4,900 apiece. The department has purchased 12 cameras and hopes to add 10 more sometime this year. The cameras are paid for by the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.

The department plans to film all traffic and pedestrian stops to use in court and to lessen liability claims against the police, Sergi said.

"The camera is activated when the officer turns on the emergency lights," Sergi said. "They also will activate when the car reaches a certain speed to record any chases we engage in."

To save any information recorded, all an officer has to do is pull up to the police station and the images will be automatically downloaded by the department's wireless server.

Medford police once had two cars outfitted with video cameras but pulled them after the system proved too bulky and ineffective, Sergi said.

"It was a videotape system and we had trouble deciding how to store the tapes, and the images were poor quality," he said. "We had them in what we called "DUII" cars, to take film of drunk-driving stops."

In addition, officers will be equipped with wireless microphones to record all interactions with citizens. Sergi said the system will help in report-writing because an officer will be able to replay exactly what was said during an exchange.

A separate camera will film the holding cage area, Sergi said.

Most officers Sergi spoke to were supportive of the camera system.

"They don't feel like it's Big Brother watching them," he said.

The Central Point Police Department's fleet has used digital cameras for more than a year. Lt. Chuck Newell said the agency is happy with the results.

"We have prosecution and defense attorneys tell us they like them because it makes cases clearer," Newell said.

The cameras also have caught a few suspects in the act of lying, Newell said.

"We had two incidents in which people accused our officers of abuse, but the camera showed otherwise," Newell said. "That held off lengthy internal-affairs investigations, which require a lot of man hours to complete."

Central Point has taken the crime-fighting camera strategy to a new level by attaching a camera to the department's Tasers, Newell said.

Sergi said Medford officers will begin training with the cameras in April and the system should be fully functional by the end of next month.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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