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Special Report: Video Policing

The future of law enforcement: High resolution cameras making arrests.
In the world of crime, suspects are able to vanish without a trace. However, in Fresno, video policing cameras have changed things.

Footage recorded on Parkway Drive, shows a shooter in action, firing his weapon on a street corner. Because of the cameras, police were able to identify and arrest the suspect.

Police Chief Jerry Dyer said, "When we use video policing to apprehend someone, they will not only confess to the crime, but plead guilty to that crime."
Chief Dyer says 150 high resolution, fully rotational video cameras have been installed along streets throughout the City of Fresno since 2007. "They are placed in those locations as determined by crime and crime trends. They've been very effective," said Dyer.

The cameras, which are marked with locator signs, are designed to act as both a deterrent and an investigative tool. "One of the first things our officers and detectives do when a crime occurs, whether it's a violent crime or property crime, is to see if there are cameras in the immediate area," said Dyer.

The system is actively monitored by volunteers, as well as officers assigned to work light duty. "If they run this way and go down the alley, then I can switch to another camera and get another angle at the same location," said one of the officers monitoring the cameras.

Chief Dyer says it's a big benefit having someone in the seat who is used to patrolling the streets. "Know what to look for, what's suspicious, what's not and they also know where those areas in Fresno are that have historically plagued us in terms of crime," said Dyer.

The video monitors are typically watched 16 to 18 hours a day, but even when nobody is watching, they are still recording.

Some folks see the cameras as a way to make the community safer, but others see them as an invasion of privacy. "I just think it's one more thing 'Big Brother' has on us," said John Wilson, who opposes the cameras.

CBS47 legal analyst, Carl Faller, says the city is well within its legal rights to operate surveillance cameras. "Anytime you're out in public where other people can observe what you did personally, you are usually constitutionally subject to video surveillance," said Faller.

The surveillance cameras do not capture audio, but cameras are very sharp. The lens on them is so strong they can zoom in and read the tiniest of details if needed. "That level of detail not only allows us to be able to determine license plates, but also facial features," said Dyer.

A camera played a role to help save a life in October of 2010. That's when a recording was taken of a pickup believed to be used in the kidnapping of an 8-year-old Fresno girl. Fresno police released the video to the media and Victor Perez saw it on the news. When he spotted the truck in his neighborhood, the Good Samaritan helped rescue the child. "It just helped 100% to catch the guy who took the girl. Because if it wasn't for that video evidence we wouldn't have known what kind of truck it was," said Victor.

Chief Jerry Dyer said, "Certainly in that child abduction case, if we did not have a camera nearby, we may not have ever recovered that young girl."

Meanwhile, the Merced Police Department is moving to have all of its officers actually wear cameras. "It's absolutely the future of law enforcement," said Lt. Tom Trinidad with the Merced Police Department.
The small device, made by Taser, captures the officer's actions as well as the folks they're contacting. "If it's on the recording, you can't say it didn't happen because it's right there. So it's to make sure we have a clear, accurate picture of what was occurring," said Trinidad.

So what if a cop does something inappropriate on camera and wants to erase it? Lieutenant Trindad says they don't have that ability. "There's only one person that can delete and everything you do on the computer, you're stamped and your name is tied with it," said Trinidad.

The goal is to have close to four dozen members of Merced's patrol unit outfitted with body cameras by the end of the year. 

With a price tag of around a $1,000 each. It's not cheap, but the department believes it's a smart investment. "Honesty, integrity and transparency are what we value in law enforcement and this is a tool that shows we do that on a day in day out basis," said Trinidad.

Fresno police have also tested the Taser body cameras but Chief Dyer says he's not able to buy them yet because of budget restraints. Between the cameras and video storage equipment, it would cost the department around $500,000. "That's a pretty good chunk of change in today's economy, but I'm hopeful that someday we'll be able to have body cameras on every one of our officers," said Dyer.

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