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New London - The chance of being captured on video during a traffic stop in New London is diminishing these days, thanks to aging equipment in police department patrol cars.
Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said last week that seven of the 17 cameras installed in vehicles are out of service. They are part of an older system that needs replacement, he said, but even the newer models have their quirks and are showing signs of age.
The subject came up at a recent police Community Relations Committee meeting in which members asked about the recording of an incident that was the target of a complaint against the department.
"As a matter of policy we routinely place vehicles with working cameras in service on all shifts," Reichard said. "However, at times when those are out of service, vehicles without cameras are required to be used."
Reichard said the video is helpful in prosecutions and more often than not helps to clear an officer of wrongdoing when an allegation of misconduct is made. One of the more famous cases linked to a police video, however, occurred in 2010 and involved allegations of misconduct by New London police officers. City resident Lance Goode complained that a police vehicle video shows Office Roger Newton, who has since resigned, dropping a bag of pills at the scene of his arrest.
Goode has a pending civil suit against Newton, five other officers and the city. U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton issued a ruling March 14 denying motions to dismiss claims against patrolmen Todd Lynch, Wayne P. Neff, David McElroy and Kyle Gorra, Sgt. Lawrence M. Keating and the city.
The cameras are not the only equipment aging at the department, for which the newest patrol vehicles were purchased in 2010. Half of the fleet of 30 patrol vehicles, consisting of the now discontinued Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, have each logged more than 60,000 miles.
"We're in desperate need of at least six patrol cars immediately," Reichard said at the recent police committee meeting.
Reichard said the highest-mileage cars, which are used around the clock and spend countless hours idling, have reached the critical point. As in many municipalities hindered by financial woes, New London's likelihood of funds becoming available this year is slim.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, responding to questions about funding, said no decisions have been made.
"The City Administration and Police Administration will review the budget that was passed to assess how best to address staffing, equipment, and vehicle needs," Finizio said.
Public Works Director Tim Hanser said the city council has yet to act on the capital budget proposed for fiscal year 2014, in which police have requested $200,000 for four vehicles. The city is more than two months into the fiscal year. The council did not act on the department's request for $322,000 in the last budget.
Hanser said the city is attempting to revise its replacement schedule and that the police department is not alone in the aging vehicle department. Public Works, he said, has a "front line" plow truck that dates back to 1986.
The fire department also has a 20-year-old pumper in need of replacement, which could cost in the neighborhood of $500,000.
Hanser said that mileage is not the only determining factor in whether a vehicle is replaced, especially for police vehicles whose engines are running constantly while they sit at roadway projects and have logged mostly city miles as opposed to highway miles.
"Idling a car is brutal on an engine," Hanser said.
As the fleet ages, the need for maintenance increases, he said.
One of the highest-mileage vehicles at the department is used by K-9 Officer Todd Lynch, the local union president, who said his vehicle has more than 122,000 miles.
Lynch said K-9 officers drive their vehicles home at night because of the dog, which may account for some added mileage, but added, "I don't know how comfortable you're supposed to feel chasing another vehicle at high speeds with that kind of mileage."
"The most important thing for me is the safety of our officers," Lynch said.
Reichard said the city's information technology department is looking for ways to pay for new equipment, and a formal request for vehicle cameras has not yet been made. Reichard is also part of the working group researching camera systems for the downtown and crime hot spot areas.
The department, Reichard said, is exploring the idea of leasing marked patrol vehicles in three-year cycles, which would replace about a third of the fleet on regular rotations.