St. Louis Police Department to outfit patrol cars with cameras

By Patrick M. O'Connell
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Police Department will be outfitting 20 patrol cars with in-car camera systems, becoming the latest metropolitan department to begin using the technology that aims to protect both officers and the public.

The camera systems are being purchased with money raised by the St. Louis Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the department. The cameras cost $100,000.

Audio and video can be recorded from a camera mounted on the front windshield and a smaller camera mounted behind the driver's seat. Officers will be able to manually activate the cameras. The camera will also automatically turn on when a squad car's lights or sirens activate, when the car reaches 70 mph or if sensors indicate the car has been in an accident.

"These in-car cameras protect officers, they will protect citizens and they will increase safety in our community," said St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom. "It's just one more technological tool that police officers will have."

But the camera purchases cover only a fraction of the department's approximately 300 patrol cars. Cost has prevented the department from buying them in the past. Isom said the goal is to eventually equip all cars, at a total expense of $1.5 million.

Isom said the cameras will help provide evidence at trial, protect officers against false complaints, help substantiate true citizen allegations and help show "exactly what happened" at any given incident.

Three trial cars are equipped with the technology now, with 20 more to follow when the department buys new Chevrolet Impalas and installs lights, sirens and the cameras. The cars will be spread across the city's precincts.

The camera technology, which operates similar to a DVR, has the ability to capture and record incidents 30 seconds before and 15 seconds after officers switch the cameras on or off, said Lt. Tom Percich, who is overseeing the project. That allows an officer stopped at a red light, for instance, the ability to record a motorist who ran the light simply by turning on the device seconds after the car passed.

The technology also safeguards against an individual officer erasing footage.

St. Louis County police currently have 72 cars out of about 300 equipped with cameras. Both the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Illinois State Police have cameras in patrol cars. In Illinois, the State Police are mandated by law to have the cameras in their cars.

Copyright 2009 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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