BREWER, Maine — There are two sides to every story, but with five digital cameras recording the scene there is little doubt about where the truth lies.
“It’s proof positive,” Brewer police Capt. Jason Moffitt said Thursday while showing off the new camera equipment installed in five of the department’s patrol vehicles. “It’s excellent evidence.”
Each vehicle has five Panasonic Arbitrator 360-degree digital cameras, which automatically activate whenever the blue lights are turned on, to capture videos from every point of view, Brewer Police Chief Perry Antone said Thursday. One faces front, one is aimed at the rear, there is one on each side and one that is focused on the back seat.
“It’s already proven its value in evidence collection,” the chief said of the mobile camera equipment, which was paid for with asset forfeiture funds received from successfully prosecuted drug cases.
One person recently complained that he was mistreated by an officer, saying he was calm during the traffic stop and the officer was disrespectful, but the video told a different story, Moffitt said.
“You see in the video they were kicking and screaming at the officer, saying things that wouldn’t help them in court,” the police captain said.
“Some of the backseat videos are pretty interesting.”
Each officer is given a wireless microphone and remote that automatically records audio and, with the push of a button, turns on the entire video recording system.
“I activate it by the remote button,” Sgt. Anthony Pinette said, holding a small pager-sized device with a red button on top. “When the [cruiser’s] lights come on, everything comes on.”
The system has its own processing unit in the vehicle and constantly is recording even when the system is not activated, Antone said.
“It has a back memory. As soon as we hit the lights, it records back 30 seconds,” the police chief said.
The front camera is mounted but it can be pulled down and moved, if needed, and the system is capable of capturing a still image, Moffitt said.
The units can record up to 32 hours of video, but nowhere near that amount is needed, he said.
“The moment an officer drives back into the station and parks, it automatically downloads any new videos into the system” installed at the police station, the police captain said.
The hard drive at the station has safeguards in place to ensure the digital images are secure, so when the tapes are used as evidence, “you can positively tell it hasn’t been tampered with,” Moffitt said.
By the time officers walk up to their work computers inside the police station from the sally port, the videos usually are already available to them.
The cameras and associated Panasonic Toughbooks laptop computers in the police vehicles cost about $65,000 and are the latest items purchased with forfeited drug money, Antone said.
The City Council created its asset forfeiture-seizure reserve account in April 2004, and over the years the approximately $700,000 received has been used to purchase four police vehicles, new guns, protective vests and other small items. The department is restricted in how the seized funds may be spent, the police chief said, explaining that they can be used for training, motor vehicle equipment or safety enhancements.
The Arbitrator cameras have wide-angle lenses that can zoom, adapt to low light and withstand varying temperatures, vibration and dust, Moffitt said.
The department has used other camera systems in the past, including ones years ago that used VHS tapes, but none could handle police work.
The Panasonic Arbitrator system “we found to be extremely reliable, rugged, and their warranty is excellent,” Moffitt said. “When you need it to work, it has to work immediately.
“It’s a great tool.”