Video cameras capture DWI arrests

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Anchorage police arrested 40 percent more drunk drivers during the recent holiday season than they did two years ago.

Police are giving credit to cameras in patrol cars that record traffic stops and sobriety tests and Mothers Against Drunk Driving is working to get more of the cameras in police cruisers.

Police reported 174 DWI arrests from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. They arrested 124 intoxicated drivers during the same period two years ago and 145 last year.

MADD's Anchorage chapter recently donated $5,500 to the Police Department to purchase one Eyewitness in-car video camera. Officer Jim Bucher had tested the camera for seven months, recording 700 traffic stops, and the department decided to purchase it when MADD agreed to the donation.

Marti Greeson, Anchorage chapter executive director, said the funds came from the $35 fee that convicted drunken drivers pay MADD to participate in a victim impact panel.

The benefits of video cameras are enormous, Greeson said.

''It's probably the single most powerful tool for the prosecution,'' she said. ''It shows exactly what the officer saw that created the probable cause to make the stop in the first place and the roadside sobriety tests. There's no denying what happened when it's on videotape.''

In addition to Bucher's new high-tech digital video camera, six cruisers have older models, said police spokesman Ron McGee. The department first used an in-car camera in 1995.

Officer Chris Shelton, who is testing a less sophisticated $1,200 camera, said he regularly uses videotapes in trials.

''When you see it in court, it's priceless,'' he said. ''It leaves nothing to the imagination. You can almost see the embarrassment on people's faces when they see themselves.''

Bucher works the 11 p.m.- 9 a.m. shift. He often has an assignment that allows him to roam for erratic drivers who might be intoxicated and to respond to DWI calls from citizens and other officers.

The camera is valuable for many aspects of police work, he said, but it's wonderful for documenting drivers who should have called a cab. It has a remote microphone that attaches to his shirt as well as mics inside the patrol car to record any statements made en route to jail. The camera, mounted on the windshield, can be rotated to capture action from any angle.

''It documents everything, from my observations to what the person is saying to me to how they act,'' he said, and nearly every offender caught on tape pleads guilty to avoid a certain conviction.

The Anchorage Police Department will lobby for a new law this legislative session to help raise more money to purchase in-car cameras, said Sgt. Lorraine Shore. The proposal is dubbed ''Justin's Law,'' after officer Justin Wollam, who died last July when a teenage driver who had been drinking smashed into his patrol car on the Glenn Highway.

Modeled after a law in Illinois, it would assess a $100 surcharge for DWI convictions and other alcohol-related offenses to help the arresting agency buy new enforcement equipment.

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