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Police get new digital video system

COVINGTON -- The Covington Police Department is giving residents a reason to smile while they're getting a ticket -- they'll be on crisp, clear digitally enhanced video thanks to a federal grant and forfeited funds from drug arrests.

"The drug dealers are paying for it," Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said. "No local taxpayer money is going into it."

The new equipment -- a Panasonic Arbitrator 360 System -- includes 10 digital cameras, 30 wireless microphones and a computer server to download videos wirelessly from police cars directly to the server when the car is parked at the station.

"Last year we had gotten notification that we were eligible for a Local Law Enforcement Block Grant for about $37,000. We looked around to see what our needs were and our video cameras were in dire need of being replaced," Cotton said, adding that they used the outdated VHS tapes. "Most of them were not operable and couldn't be fixed because they were so old."

The system will cost $142,760.54, which includes the purchase price, installation and support services for three years. The Justice Assistance Grant will pay $37,787.00, with the balance coming from the forfeited funds.

"This does more than the old traditional VHS system," Cotton said, explaining that the digital feed will run continuously in a 1-minute loop and when the patrol unit's blue lights are activated will begin capturing and archiving the footage, plus it will also keep that 1-minute prior to the incident. Cotton said that means in most cases when someone runs a red light or makes some other traffic violation, it will be caught on video, as well as having both video and audio of what went on during the traffic stop.

"The officer will go back to the station and say he's had two or three traffic stops, this equipment will automatically download that information onto a server," he said. " ... say somebody wants to talk to me about the traffic stop, I'll be able to pull it up on my computer screen and view it. The same goes for the D.A. and for court."

Cotton also pointed out that the storage and retrieval of the video archive will be much more efficient for both officers and auxiliary personnel.

"Right now we have shelves of VHS tape. It could take hours to find something," he said.