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Squad cameras a helpful tool for law enforcement

Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr has seen some important benefits to law enforcement work by the use of squad car cameras. Submitted photo1 / 3
A camera mounted in the front window of a Wadena County squad can be of great assistance to law enforcement and county attorneys because of their ability to record and download digital data. Many squad cars are loaded with a large amountl of electronic and emergency equipment. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal2 / 3
All deputies of Wadena County's patrol division drive units equipped with squad cameras. The are activated when a squad car's lights are switched on and will give Dispatch a video feed to go along with an audio feed from a mic each officer carries. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal3 / 3

Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr is a fan of the squad car cameras his deputies use in their patrol cars.

When the digital units are activated by turning on the flashing emergency lights mounted atop the vehicle, the camera automatically gives a recording of what has transpired in the previous 30 seconds.

"Its an awesome feature," Carr said. "We had a deputy who hit a cow one time, 555 square miles of roadway, and we just happened to be in wrong place. He hits his lights and we get to see the whole accident with the cow."

The deputy suffered a small neck fracture and missed some work. The cow was not so fortunate.

Carr said county squad cameras are not always switched on, but it is department policy to have them working on a "hot call" or a traffic stop they have to have their cameras activated.

In some situations a deputy may not be able to make use of the video feature of the camera, but by tying the body mic into the unit they can be heard.

There are disputes between law enforcement personnel and the people they have arrested, which are sometimes in question when the matter goes to court. By downloading the digital information and reviewing it, Carr, his deputies and personnel in the county attorney's office can get a reliable account of what happened in a disputed situation.

Cameras are designed to pick up video from outside the squad car when activated, but with a mic working with it they might also be recording evidence within the squad car - if a suspect is talking in the back of the unit - or if they are talking with a deputy between the vehicle and the law enforcement center.

Carr believes cameras can be a benefit to a person who might be in contact with a deputy, perhaps during a traffic stop, but they are definitely an asset to a law enforcement agency.

Carr has experience if a third party has interjected themselves in a conflicting situation between a deputy and a young person, believing their son or daughter is telling them the truth about an allegation. Carr realizes most parents are going to believe their kids if they say a police officer used foul language, said something or touched them inappropriately.

"You play that video for them and their face turns beet red and they are embarrassed because it never even happened," Carr said.

Carr sees camera technology has a great benefit to law enforcement.

"I would say it benefits us more than it does anyone else because nowadays people are sue happy, people like to make false claims and you know what, it is good to protect ourselves, it is good for us to also protect the person too."

Carr had one of the county's first squad car cameras in 1998. They worked well, but the clarity of sound in those cameras is nothing compared to what it is today.

"You can pretty much hear a pin drop," Carr said.

Body cameras are another question. The Wadena County Sheriff's Office does not presently have them. Might they be added to a deputies arsenal of electronic devices?

"I don't even want to elaborate right now," Carr said. "Do I think they are coming to a county near you? Yep, they are going to be here some day. There are too many things right now that need to get straightened out with data requests. Sometimes these things are left running and maybe an officer is at a coffee shop having a conversation with someone, maybe about duck hunting, and why should our conversation be a part of data release? They have to get this figured out a little bit more."

Flying drones may also be increasing in law enforcement work.

"There are FAA (Federal Aeronautics Administration) rules, you have to have sight of vision, line of vision with those things. I can't just fly half a mile down the road here and go look in someone's window. You can get yourself in trouble with those drones."

While the Wadena Sheriff's Office does not have a drone, Carr said they do have access to one.

Might drones be used as an intrusive crime fighting weapon by law enforcement?

"It's an awesome tool, I think they have their purpose, but we can't do anything without search warrants today; we can't do anything without having probable cause."

Carr said.