Busted in Basalt? Smile, you’re on camera | AspenTimes.com

Busted in Basalt? Smile, you’re on camera

Basalt cops will soon be saying “smile, you’re on candid camera” to drunk drivers and other people they bust.

The Basalt Police Department will become one of the first law enforcement agencies in the Roaring Fork Valley to use video cameras and recorders full time in their patrol cars.

The Basalt Town Council endorsed spending an estimated $8,100 on the high-tech equipment from its 1999 budget. The police department is shopping for three cameras and recorders.

The department has used one camera for the last 18 months on an experimental basis. “It’s showed that it was a valuable tool,” said Police Chief Jim Stryker.

The camera provides some peace of mind for officers who were making stops alone on dark streets late at night, said Stryker. The cameras can be set up so they record action when an officer gets out of a car and contacts people in another vehicle or on foot.

The cameras, often very noticeable, can be a deterrent to people who try to interfere with an officer’s duties.

“It’s Big Brother is watching, basically,” said Stryker.

Along with boosting officer safety, the cameras and microphones help with DUI convictions, according to Stryker. Tapes of a DUI suspect’s actions are admissible in court and often confirm slurred speech, unsteadiness on feet and other telltale signs of intoxication.

That information can help with a conviction or even convince defense attorneys not to take a case to court.

“They say, `Oops, maybe we don’t want to go forward with this,’ ” Stryker said.

Other local agencies have flirted with employing cameras, but aren’t using them as a regular tool.

“It’s an incredible tool,” said Trooper Sean O’Neil, public information officer with the Colorado State Patrol. He said the State Patrol has coveted video cameras and recorders for years, but cannot afford them.

“It’s a funding issue with the state,” he said.

The Aspen Police Department has a video camera that is used in a variety of situations, including taping revelers on New Year’s Eve. Officers are still assessing if the cameras should be used in their cars.

Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Lumsden said it’s likely just a matter of time before all law enforcement agencies have video cameras in their cars.

The Basalt Police Department hopes to have the cameras in place in three cars within a couple of months. Who knows, it could even lead to fame for arrestees. A new generation of television cop shows eat up adventure footage from officers’ in-car cameras.

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