By Dan Hust
FALLSBURG May 4, 2001 Theres a new tool on the Town of Fallsburg Police Departments law enforcement belt, and officials anticipate it will significantly reduce complaints and the constant dangers inherent in police work.
If youve watched Cops or other law enforcement reality shows on Fox, then youve already seen it in action and the Fallsburg PD is the first in the county to outfit all its squad cars with it.
Manufactured by a firm called Kustom, its a video recording system, complete with a moveable camera, TV screen, 8mm tape, wireless microphones and fast-forward/rewind capabilities. And soon, one will be on each of Fallsburgs four patrol units.
Two are already carrying the $3,700-apiece systems, and two more are scheduled to be installed in June. The town paid for one, while SYDA, the giant, non-profit, local meditation and religious training center near South Fallsburg, donated the other approximately two months ago. The holdup on the remaining two, said Fallsburg PD Chief Brent Lawrence, is final confirmation of the donations which will enable their purchase.
But considering that the only other in-county police agency which has video cameras in their cars is the State Police (two Camaros which patrol Route 17) why did Fallsburg decide to set a precedent?
It was suggested by our insurance company as a way to eliminate frivolous lawsuits, explained Lawrence, who oversees the 17-man department based at the town hall in South Fallsburg. We felt we needed them for safety purposes and to support the integrity of our officers.
Officer Michael Foster, whos been with the Fallsburg PD for seven months, agrees that the system has been a help in patrolling the 80 square miles, seven hamlets and one village that make up the Town of Fallsburg.
Were a very active department. Theres a wide variety of activities were involved in, he remarked. Now we have the video and audio to hopefully circumvent any false allegations and these are admissable in court. Its a useful tool for prosecuting cases, as well as departmental liabilities.
What kind of liabilities? Well, on a recent warm, sunny afternoon, Foster set up a speed trap in Hurleyville, which has a posted 30 MPH limit on the main thoroughfare, County Route 104.
A black Dodge Neon went zipping by at 47 MPH, and Foster quickly brought the driver a young woman with a child to a stop. Stepping out of his patrol car, Foster cautiously approached the drivers side of the vehicle. In a pleasant but official manner, he introduced himself, told the driver why he pulled her over, and asked for her license and registration.
In this case, the driver complied, but a hundred things could have gone wrong at that moment from driver aggression to improper police procedure to even another car coming dangerously close to the officer, who was by necessity standing nearly on the road.
But there, mounted on the windshield and recording every bit, was a small, boxy camera, and in a unit in the ceiling, a TV screen with controls similar to a VCRs was ticking off the seconds as it displayed the scene. A wireless microphone underneath Fosters tie recorded even the quietest sounds inside the vehicle including the womans surprised reaction to being caught by a rear-facing radar gun and the childs amusing exclamation of Hey, Im a cop, too!
Had the driver been arrested, she would have been placed in the back seat of Fosters 2000 Ford Crown Victoria patrol unit, where another microphone would have recorded every word.
In this case, the recording ended with the woman being given a ticket and let go.
Although Foster has control of stopping and starting the tape (it automatically is engaged when the cars emergency lights come on), he has no access to the tape itself, nor can he overwrite any info on it.
The six-hour tape, said Lawrence, is returned to the senior officer on duty at the station at the end of a shift and is filed for seven days before being reused longer, if necessary.
And, added Foster, only the lieutenant, sergeant and chief have direct access to the tape, so charges of police tampering with evidence are minimized.
Lawrence and Foster both already think general complaints, charges of police abusing their authority, frivolous arguments over arrests, and other sticky situations have been reduced thanks to the system, which shows in unblinking detail exactly what happens during any incident which takes place within the cameras view.
Were stepping into the 21st century, said Neil Gilberg, a town board member and a police commissioner. Were becoming proactive, as this is another tool.
The systems which cost nothing extra to taxpayers have also boosted departmental morale, believes Gilberg.
They [officers] appreciate having it, he said. This shows our officers that we [the town board] are dedicated to improving our police department.
For more information or in an emergency, call the Fallsburg PD at 434-4422.