Port Royal police start move from VHS to digital

emoody@beaufortgazette.comApril 13, 2012 

Port Royal police are still using VHS tapes to record video in their cruisers, and officers and town officials say it's time for an upgrade.

VHS tapes are getting difficult to find, expensive and can backfire in court, interim Police Chief Alan Beach has said.

"The last couple of jury trials, we actually had the tapes get eaten in the VHS player in court," Beach said during the Town Council's annual retreat in March.

So instead of waiting for the state to buy new equipment, the town is using part of a budget surplus to buy digital recorders, at Beach's recommendation.

Town manager Van Willis said about $59,000 was saved, mostly through personnel changes. The department has two significant needs -- replacing four aging cruisers and buying the digital recorders. Officials decided to buy one vehicle and four recorders, he said.

A new Ford Police Interceptor costs $24,077 if purchased through a state contract, and it costs an additional $800 to transfer equipment from an old vehicle and paint the Port Royal emblem on the side, Beach said.

The L-3 Communications digital systems cost $6,897 for the first recorder and $4,607 for subsequent ones, he said. The initial price includes software.

Beaufort, Bluffton and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office started replacing VHS recorders with digital ones in 2005 and 2006.

The recorders are used to capture offenses on the road, as well as conversations and actions of traffic offenders and prisoners during transport.

State law requires police vehicles to have video records, and the state supplied the VHS systems to Port Royal in 2004 and 2005. Beach said there have been discussions on the state level about the state buying digital recorders for local departments. However, he not does not know when that will happen, and Port Royal, with its small population, is low on the state's priority list.

With about 20 police vehicles and the town buying digital recorders in stages, Willis said, this leaves an opportunity for the state to pick up some of the cost if it starts providing equipment in the near future.

Port Royal will add the recorders as money is available.

The vehicle and equipment purchases this year will take some of the pressure off next year's budget, Willis said. Town officials are working on the 2012-13 figures now, and he expects additional savings in areas such as personnel.

Police Chief Jim Cadien died two months ago and Beach was promoted to interim chief. A new police chief has not been named nor a replacement hired for Beach. If the reduced command structure is successful, Willis estimated the town could hire an additional patrol officer and save about $50,000.

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