Oklahoma Highway Patrol scuffle puts focus on cameras

PAUL MONIES Published: June 22, 2009
The state Department of Public Safety has spent more than $1.4 million in the past year to outfit its patrol vehicles with state-of-the-art digital video cameras.

But access to footage from those cameras has been closed to the public by the Legislature at the agency’s request.

The cameras figured prominently in a recent skirmish between an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper and a paramedic from the Creek Nation ambulance service.

After the latest order of cameras is installed, the Public Safety Department will have 368 WatchGuard DV-1 cameras in its patrol vehicles, spokesman Capt. Chris West said. Each video system costs more than $4,500.

The cameras are made by WatchGuard Video LLC of Plano, Texas. That company beat out three others last year, according to a review of bid documents.

A Kansas vendor, Digital Ally, had a lower bid at $3,895 per camera but didn’t meet the agency’s specifications.

"It installs easily, and they have some attributes that some other cameras cannot meet,” Lt. Col. John Harris, deputy chief and director of the patrol’s transportation division, said of the WatchGuard camera. "It’s all-digital, which is such a plus with storage. It’s an expensive piece of equipment, but you get what you pay for. It’s a good product for law enforcement.”

How they work
The latest cameras begin recording automatically any time a trooper turns on his front and rear emergency lights, West said. Footage is captured from pursuits, traffic stops and other emergency situations. Troopers also can manually turn on the camera in other instances — such as helping motorists or traffic control — where only the rear emergency lights are used, West said.

Each of the patrol’s 13 field traffic troops has a supervisor who is responsible for the evidence DVDs recorded by the video systems, he said. Other supervisors review the footage periodically for performance evaluations.

"We can’t always get out in the field with our troopers to ride with them,” West said. "The tapes are also the first thing we go to when we get complaints from citizens.

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