Police apply for grant to get cameras

OLYMPIA – The Olympia Police Department is applying for a $21,000 grant to put cameras in two or three of its 27 patrol units, said police spokesman Dick Machlan.

If all goes as planned, Machlan said the cameras should be installed by fall. Machlan said the issue of whether two or three patrol cars will have cameras will be decided by how much money it costs to get the system up and running.

A patrol car’s camera, along with an audio recording device, will be activated when an officer turns on his emergency lights or sirens, said Olympia police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad.

The cameras typically film the area in front of a police car to show what happens during a traffic stop.

Across the country, the use of patrol car cameras is becoming more popular to decide liability issues when police are accused of wrongdoing.

Bjornstad said having a video record of what transpires during a traffic stop eliminates the problem of having a “he said, she said” account and gives solid evidence of what happened.

The vast majority of conflicts where patrol car videotape evidence is available are decided in a police officer’s favor, Bjornstad added.

In October 2007, a video camera on the dashboard of Washington State Patrol trooper Jon Nelson’s car helped the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office find that Nelson’s Aug. 6, 2007, fatal shooting of driver Harley Moniz was justified. The tape showed Moniz driving backward while accelerating rapidly and slamming his Acura into Nelson’s patrol car just before the shooting. The shooting occurred at the end of a police chase on Stonecrest Lane off U.S. 101 near Steamboat Island.

Of the local police departments in Thurston County, the Tumwater Police Department is the only one that has cameras in all of its patrol units.

Around Thurston County, Bjornstad and spokesmen for other local departments said that budgetary issues are the biggest obstacle preventing cameras in all police patrol cars.

 • The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office has cameras in six of its 57 patrol cars – about 10 percent, said Thurston County Chief Criminal Deputy James Chamberlain.

 • The Lacey Police Department has cameras in two of its unmarked traffic units. There are no cameras in Lacey’s roughly 20 or so marked patrol units, said Lacey Police Chief Dusty Pierpoint.

 • The State Patrol has video cameras in 85 of its roughly 640 patrol cars, about 13 percent, said spokesman Freddy Williams. In an e-mail to The Olympian, Williams said “the long-term goal is to have 100 percent, but that will take time and money.”

Under Washington state law, police must notify a driver that he or she is being recorded by audio during a traffic stop, Williams said.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465