Lynnwood Police adding eyes to patrols

  • Katherine Schiffner<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:40am

LYNNWOOD — The Lynnwood Police Department will soon become one of the few agencies in the nation able to send live video from a patrol car to its police station.

The technology can allow officers involved in vehicle chases or dangerous traffic stops to instantly send video from a patrol car to a supervisor, and provide, among other things, a safer situation for officers and the public.

Officers also tout the ability of this technology to capture key evidence and to protect departments from lawsuits.

The digital patrol-car camera starts rolling when an officer switches on the lights and sirens.

In the new car, at the push of an additional button, police will be able to transmit a stream of live video via wireless Internet to the station, Lynnwood officer T.J. Brooks said.

“A sergeant could just pull up the video at his desktop computer and watch what’s happening,” Brooks said. “It gives the supervisor a great deal of information without officers having to be on the radio so much as they’re driving.”

The system will be installed in Brooks’ patrol car at the end of the month. His will be the only Lynnwood car able to send live video, but the system may be added to more patrol in the future.

The camera for his car is engineered to stabilize the image by isolating the camera from the car’s vibration. It also has an infrared option, allowing the camera to capture images in the dark.

The technology is provided by SecureEye Systems Inc., a Lynnwood-based business. The company also equipped 10 other Lynnwood patrol cars with digital video cameras that record directly to the car’s computer.

Each camera system cost about $10,000, but SecureEye provided several systems for free as a way to test the new technology, said Jim Masten, president of SecureEye.

The digitally captured images are sent from the car’s computer via a wireless connection as officers drive near the police station, Masten said. The video signal can’t be altered.

Police will tell drivers they stop that they are being recorded, Brooks said. Small microphones clipped to officers’ uniforms will pick up conversations between officers and drivers.

Brooks used his in-car camera this fall to record an alleged bank robber as he led police on a high-speed chase.

“As they gave me the description of the car involved in the robbery, I noticed the vehicle was right in front of me,” Brooks said.

The chase ended with a foot pursuit and an arrest, he said.

The Lynnwood department is among a growing number of law enforcement agencies in Snohomish County using patrol-car cameras to capture video evidence that officials say will help keep police accountable.

“And (it) minimizes issues of biased-based policing,” Mountlake Terrace Chief Scott Smith said. “The bottom line is if the officer is doing his or her job, the video camera will show that if there’s a complaint.”

Mountlake Terrace is installing cameras in its six new patrol cars in February, he said.

Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart said he’s seeking grant money to install cameras in all of his department’s patrol cars, in part to cut down on lawsuits against the sheriff’s office.

Since 1994, the sheriff’s office has spent more than $3.7 million to settle major claims and lawsuits, more than any other Snohomish County department, records show.

Cameras “would be a way to bring that number down and resolve a lot of the he-said-she-said stuff,” Bart said.

Video can also provide valuable evidence for prosecutors, said Mark Roe, Snohomish County’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor.

“The old saying a picture is worth a thousand words certainly applies,” he said. “Being actually able to see what people are doing and how they’re acting can only help. And if they’re not doing anything wrong, we want to know that, too.”

“The biggest concern is that it’s easy to assume you’re seeing a total representation of what happened,” police officials said. “They produce a very compressed image and if anything is being shot at a significant distance, it can be tough to see what happened.”

Lynnwood officer Mark Brinkman, who caught the highest number of drunken drivers in the county last year, said the camera doesn’t always capture the small details that can indicate if a driver has had too much too drink.

An eye test is one of the most telling indicators, he said, but the camera couldn’t capture that.

“If someone is staggering drunk, you’ll see it on the video,” he said. “But most drivers aren’t. They’re just a little over the .08 (percent) limit.”

Brinkman is learning how the camera could help convict drunken drivers, and said the technology is a benefit to the department.

“It’s another tool we have to do our jobs,” he said.

Katherine Schiffner is a reporter for the Herald in Everett.

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