Smile, you're on ICOP!
If you're stopped by Ashland police these days, the officer will tell you that both video and audio of the event is being recorded by a camera, known as ICOP, in the officer's car.
The infraction you were stopped for is also recorded on the machine and will be available to police, courts and you, if you want to see it.
The sophisticated video technology costs $5,500 per car and is paid for with funds that were forfeited in drug arrests.
Assistant Chief Rich Walsh of the Ashland Police Department says the video and audio serves a range of purposes — foremost in protecting the officer by putting defendants, suspects, witnesses, bystanders and officers on their best behavior.
"If someone says the officer was rude, we look at the video and we make a determination based on what we see," says Walsh.
"And sometimes the judge (when dealing with a defendant about to plead innocent) will tell them to look at the video. Once they see the violation, like going through a red light, they don't challenge it."
ICOP (named for ICOP Technology, its maker), includes a small color camera mounted near the vehicle's rear-view mirror, and a black-and-white camera that covers the police car's back seat. Both feed into a 40-gigabyte hard drive and display on a 5-inch screen inserted where the AM/FM radio used to be.
Officer Phil Gray says the cop cams have made life easier and safer for police — and expedited court proceedings.
"They tend to keep everyone on an even temper and on their best behavior, both them and us," says Gray.
"If there's a dispute, a situation that might happen, it helps clarify the 'he said-she said' that goes on. Defendants often discover they're incorrect when they view what was cited."
The video is on all the time, but is saved to a computer hard drive only when signaled by the officer. A microphone on the officer's belt records audio to the unit. All interactions with people are saved for a period of time.
At the end of a shift, the officer downloads all data into a 5-terabyte hard drive in the station (a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes). Recordings of incidents can be viewed by the District Attorney, judges, police or people involved in an event.
The ICOP can also zoom in and read license plates at a great distance.
"It's helped us greatly, because videos don't lie," says Sgt. Jim Alderman, who researched the equipment for purchase. "It also has allowed us to write much more detailed reports afterward, by referring to the digital recording."
Officers also carry small digital audio recorders, allowing them to document events that happen away from the road or in a house, said Alderman.
The video and audio technology has been available for a few decades but cost has always been the barrier in this region.
"That's the reason Southern Oregon is behind the (technology) curve — it's all about money," says Alderman, noting the units are in use in the Central Point Police Department and are being put online in Medford, too.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.