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Hudson squad cars and police officers will have video cameras

The Hudson City Council voted 5-1 Monday night to spend up to $100,000 to equip 11 squad cars with video cameras and outfit 21 police officers with lapel body cameras.

The expense includes an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 for a computer server to store the videos recorded by the cameras.

Police Chief Marty Jensen said the cameras will increase convictions because of the evidence they capture, reduce the number of citizen complaints filed against officers, and result in savings in overtime and investigation costs.

“The video cameras provide an unbiased presentation of the facts of the incident. There are many instances where the witnesses have stated one thing, but the video evidence has proved them wrong,” Jensen wrote in a memo to council members supporting purchase of the video cameras.

He said many disorderly individuals calm down when officers inform them that a video camera is rolling. The cameras also can be used to monitor the productivity of officers, he said.

“It is an independent witness and your best evidence when you go to court,” Jensen said of the video recordings.

The police chief also provided council members with email messages of support for video systems from several fellow Wisconsin police chiefs, as well as a message from Hudson’s municipal prosecutor, Maxfield Neuhaus.

“My opinion, as the city prosecutor, is that this would be a valuable investment for two significant reasons: money and justice,” Neuhaus wrote.

Neuhaus gave the example of a case in which a driver had been found to have a blood-alcohol content of .16. But the driver argued that he hadn’t swerved across the center line and requested a court hearing on the reason he was stopped.

“I needed to prepare for the hearing and the officer needed to appear in court and testify. The defendant’s motion was denied and he then pled no contest. Had there been a video, I believe that the defendant would have pled no contest from the very start,” Neuhaus wrote. Instead, it cost the city money to prosecute the case.

Neuhaus also said that the old adage “a picture says 1,000 words” is true in the legal system.

He said that in his opinion the reports written by Hudson police officers are highly accurate, but the officers are shouldered with the responsibility of “memorializing what happened” in reports.

“Video would speak for itself. In contested cases, I would be able to send the defendant the video and they could see for themselves,” Neuhaus wrote.

Jensen also provided council members with a link to a research paper from the International Association of Chiefs of Police that spoke to the benefits of police video cameras.

Jensen indicated tha the price estimate of $100,000 for the system was “on the high side.” It could be less, he said.

Alderperson Mary Yacoub, chair of the Public Safety Committee, spoke the most passionately in favor of purchasing the video system. She said she had been discussing the need for video cameras with Jensen “for a long time,” and the council kept delaying the purchase.

The police department hasn’t gotten a lot of new equipment in recent years in comparison to departments like Public Works, Yacoub said.

She encouraged alderpersons to “think hard about the safety of officers and the community.”

Council President Rich Vanselow said he was initially against purchasing the cameras, but changed his mind after talking to Chief Jensen about how they could increase the safety of officers and citizens, and provide liability protection for the city.

Alderperson Lori Bernard was the one council member who voted against the purchase.

“Sometimes when you invest a great deal on technology, it ends up costing more in IT support,” Bernard said.

She noted that it would require police department staff time to manage the video evidence, and said the equipment would eventually need to be upgraded or replaced.

Bernard conceded that about 65 percent of Wisconsin city police departments have video systems, but called attention to a police chief who said he didn’t think the cameras justified the cost.

Alderperson John Hoggatt compared the police videos to instant replays at major sporting events. “I think it is going to be a huge benefit,” he said.

Yacoub made the motion to spend capital funds for the video system. It was seconded by Vanselow.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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