Cameras being added to Steamboat police cars, officers

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— By July 1, all of the Steamboat Springs Police Department’s patrol cars — and officers — will be equipped with video cameras.

The technology is used by many law enforcement agencies across the country, and Chief Joel Rae said it has two major benefits. It will allow the officers to collect nearly indisputable evidence.

“Today’s society and today’s jurors really expect law enforcement to have the technology,” Rae said.

Documenting police involvements also will help protect officers, Rae said. Police departments often rely on the equipment to help investigate citizen complaints against officers.

“We obviously want our officers to be mindful that everything they do is being recorded, and we’re transparent,” Rae said.

Rae said $35,000 has been budgeted to purchase eight patrol car cameras and 16 cameras that are placed on the chest of the officers. The units also will record audio.

Originally, Rae said they had planned on installing the cameras in just two patrol cars the first year.

“I think it’s better to roll it out at once,” Rae said.

The cameras use wireless technology. When the patrol cars pull up to the police station, the video automatically will be uploaded to a server in the building, where it cannot be edited, Rae said.

“It’s a pretty secure system that can’t be altered,” Rae said.

Relevant video will be saved, and unneeded video files will be deleted after six months.

When an officer activates the overhead lights on their patrol vehicle, the cameras will automatically start recording. The cameras on the officers can be manually turned on and off, Rae said, and they are finalizing policies for how they are used.

“We want our officers trying to capture absolutely everything,” Rae said.

The video can be a powerful tool in the courtroom, where jurors can see for themselves what happened.

“People can relate a lot better when they’re not having to have an officer describe an incident,” Rae said.

Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said the Sheriff's Office has the cameras installed in a majority of its patrol cars.

“There are a lot of useful benefits with them,” Wiggins said.

He said the video has been useful for prosecuting cases, such as DUIs.

“Not only do you have the officer testifying … you have video evidence, as well,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said it also has proven useful when there are complaints against deputies who were accused of using profanity or acting unprofessionally.

“What they claim the deputy said was not said,” Wiggins said. “It serves a lot of good.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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