With an eye toward safety for officers and residents, all 14 Jefferson Township police patrol cars are now outfitted with dashboard cameras, but that isn’t all that’s new.
Captain Paul Castimore, who oversees the administrative and patrol divisions, is enthusiastic about many changes made for the safety and efficiency of patrol.
“The cameras are huge,” he said, noting they were a five-year project and were purchased without incurring debt.
The dash cameras are triggered when the officer turns the light bar on, Lt. Richard Riena said, so every traffic stop has audio and video recording. The camera needs to be turned off manually, he said. The dash camera actually starts recording 30 seconds prior to when the camera is turned on.
A second camera faces the back seat to record what happens when the officer puts a prisoner or passenger into the car, Riena said. That camera actually starts 60 seconds before the switch is thrown. The back seat features a half-cage for the protection of the officer and the person arrested. The back windows also have a metal screen so no one can kick the glass out.
If the officer is out of the car for a non-emergency and has not turned on the camera, double clicking the body microphone will turn the camera on, he said.
The camera is also activated when the patrol car’s speed reaches 90 miles per hour. Riena said that would mean the officer is in pursuit or on his or her way to an emergency, so the camera might be necessary. It also has a deceleration detector for sudden stops or crashes, he added.
Castimore said the department was at first looking at body cameras to be purchased before dash cameras, but council favored the dash cams first.
He noted the cameras can be used to provide evidence and also for the protection of an officer falsely accused of abusing an arrestee.
Jefferson buys four new cars a year. For 20 years they could reuse the center consoles but Ford finally changed them and the department had to buy new ones.
The modern consoles have computers that can play the video from the dash cam. They store the video and can be used to check drivers’ licenses and registrations, Riena said. Castimore noted the patrol officers can do everything on the car’s computer they can do in the office. They are in the car 12 hours a day, he noted.
Riena said the new, young officers get used to the computer quickly; the older ones, not so much.
All of the cars now have new radios, Castimore pointed out, noting he pulled a 40-year-old radio out of one car last year. It still worked.
The cars have racks for shotguns and rifles and room in the back for traffic cones, fire extinguishers, life jackets, bullet-proof vests and a box of breech tools.
The old Crown Victorias had plenty of room for storage too, but the officers like the Sport Utility Vehicles for other reasons.
“Especially in Jefferson where you never know how much snow you’re going to get, the All Wheel Drives are appreciated,” Castimore said. He noted police don’t end up doing as many high-speed chases as they used to, so they don’t need the big engines of the Crown Vics.
When the police vehicles have between 60,000 and 80,000 miles on them they are transferred to another township department.
“The average vehicle lasts eight to 10 years,” Castimore said. He praised the Department of Public Works for their maintenance of the vehicles.
Most of the police cars are white with blue and gold lettering and the standard light bar, but there are two without the light bar and two black cars with “stealth” lettering. The lettering is a 3M adhesive that is hard to see during the daytime but reflects lights at night. In addition, the traffic bureau has a vehicle that isn’t a Ford to make it look less like a police car.
Castimore demonstrated various ways of adjusting the red and blue lights to eliminate glare at night or on construction duty.
He said the township council seems amenable to the next project, renovation and expansion of headquarters.