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Palmhurst approves cameras for PD

20170321 PALMHURST Camera-demo 1606 featureEvery officer in Palmhurst will soon have video footage of every call to which he responds. Tuesday night, the city commission agreed to spend more than $22,000 on point-of-view cameras that each officer will wear on a pair of glasses or on his collar.

Chief Michael Vela said the city's new policy will require officers to turn it on during each call.

“My main focus here is for the officers, the officer safety and the citizens,” Vela said. “If there’s a shooting, the majority of the time it’s just the officer and the suspect.”

The Palmhurst City Council also agreed to pay $91,000 for a new dispatch system that should be more efficient, but city leaders didn't take spending that kind of money lightly.

The decision had been delayed months ago when the chief initially requested the expenditures, which were already budgeted.

In a workshop for two hours Tuesday, presenters with Tyler Technologies, which sold the dispatch system, and Taser Technologies, which sold the camera, were grilled by the commission.

Councilwoman Ofelia Peña-Perez wanted to know how the new dispatch system would communicate with the court system from Tyler Technologies already in place. The two systems will work together, and the information inputted on the municipal court side will be pushed to the dispatch system, so if an officer pulls over someone with an outstanding warrant, he’ll be alerted.

Councilman James Aranda wanted to know if the city would need to alert everyone at each call that the officer is recording the scene. In Texas, only one party needs to know if they’re being recorded, and because the officer will know he’s recording the scene, the city is covered.

Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez Jr. wanted to know about the cons of the system.

“It’s the .01 percent of the time that an officer doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do,” answered Andrew Grayson, of Taser Technologies.

The group looked at the options for the camera; they were shown both the point-of-view camera as well as a body camera, which would be attached to the officer’s chest–it’s the same camera San Juan city officials recently purchased for their police officers. But Vela was quick to demonstrate that if an officer has to draw his weapon, his arms and the gun would block the view of the camera.

“In court, they’ll say point of view is better because it’s what the officer actually saw,” Rodriguez said.

At one point, to verify the sturdiness of the camera, Peña-Perez dropped it on the wood floor and jokingly lifted her foot to step on it.

Right now, if the district attorney’s office needs video from a dash cam, the chief, as the custodian of records, must burn a CD and physically take it to the county. With the camera, Grayson pointed out, the city could send the county a hyperlink to the video, which would be hosted on a cloud, so the city wouldn’t need to worry about storage.

Later that night at the meeting, Vela said he’d chip in more than $8,000 of the $22,000 cost for the cameras–$4,250 from a donation from H-E-B and $4,300 of forfeiture funds.

The commission unanimously approved the move.

But the chief was nervous when it came to the dispatch system. The initial investment is $91,000 and the city will need to pay a $15,000 maintenance fee annually. With that fee, the city will get free upgrades to the system. The current system’s maintenance fee is about $19,000 annually.

With the new system, the chief said, if the area gets the next generation of 9-1-1, the city will be able to get reports via text and people will be able to send pictures and video.

The new system pulls up a caller’s name and address immediately and is less clunky than the city’s current process, which involves going to the Notes application on the computer and pressing F5 to timestamp a call. Still, pulling up a name and address won’t work with 90 percent of the calls coming in because they’re cell phones, Vela said. But that’s a nationwide issue.

“I know it’s a lot of money, but it’s something that I did ask for in 2008, or 2009,” Vela said. I know a lot of people just focused on the amount, and I myself focused on this amount. This is something that I’ve been researching for years.”

But he was interrupted by Aranda, who perhaps asked the most questions about the system in the workshop.

“Just stop right there,” Aranda said. “I think that you really need this system.”

It, too, was approved unanimously.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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