Friday, August 15, 2008

California DUI attorneys grateful Sacramento County Sheriff's Department is going digital

California DUI lawyers would like to prove more officers exaggerate or overstate if not misstate what happened at the location of the DUI arrest. Drunk Driving field sobriety tests now will meet the Face of Truth.

California DUI attorneys will be able to show officers aren't quite telling jurors things exactly the way they really were.

Nearly 350 Sacramento County Sheriff's Department vehicles have been equipped with video camera systems that promise to aid in prosecutions and provide clarity in civilian complaints against officers. In 2006, the county authorized the sheriff to spend $4 million on the equipment.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department is going digital.

Nearly 350 vehicles have been equipped with a state-of-the-art digital video recording system that promises to reduce the number of cases going to trial, create more slam-dunk prosecutions and provide greater clarity in disputes between officers and community members.

"It's been a tremendous help to our department," said Lt. Phil Brelje. "It clears (deputies) pretty easily and makes good cases for us."

While the footage will be a staple in local courtrooms, don't expect to see chases being aired on reality television.

"I would not sell them to reality TV. That is not the purpose of the technology," said Sheriff John McGinness.

In 2006, the county authorized spending $4 million to purchase camera systems. After a long look at different technologies, the cameras started being installed last year.

Each unit costs $10,000 for the camera and a laptop computer.

Some municipalities – including the city of Sacramento – have had cameras in their squad cars for years.

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Soloman said those cameras have been highly helpful.

"It's been great for us," he said. "There have been videos of high-speed chases that have been great evidence. It really puts the jury there."

In DUI arrests, "it shows the guy belligerent and drunk and falling down. It's not just the officer describing him."

The sheriff's digital video system is a significant technological leap from the VCR system the Police Department has had in place since 2001.

Where the Police Department relies on supervisors to remove the VHS tape from a lockbox, the sheriff's system beams the digital file back to the station as soon as squad cars return to the parking lot.

The system starts recording audio and video when the vehicle's lights or sirens are turned on, it reaches 80 mph or is involved in a collision. In each case, the devices also records the 30 seconds before the trigger.

Deputies, wearing cordless microphones, can manually start recording inside or outside the car with the push of a button.

Other local municipalities have been looking into the technology. On Tuesday, the West Sacramento Police Department got a demonstration. Brelje said the Yolo and Placer county sheriff's departments also have been looking into the system.

Matt Young, a spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, said the city's tight budget will determine the outcome.

The budget "impacts our ability to procure new technology," Young said, "but that hasn't stopped us from looking at new technology."