Cary police to get new car dash cameras, officer bodycams. Here’s why they waited.

When Cary police officers turn on their patrol-car light bar, they’ll soon be turning on their cameras too.

The department is installing 120 car dash cameras made by WatchGuard, a Texas-based security vendor. The change comes 15 years after Cary police got their first dash cameras.

The total cost of buying and installing the cameras and setting up video storage servers is $1.2 million. The town also estimates an annual operating cost of $200,000 to $300,000 over the next five years.

Mobile Communications America employees installing WatchGuard dash cameras into police cars in Cary photographed by Trent Brown on July 25, 2019. These installations will be continuing through September 2019. Trent Brown tbrown@newsobserver.com

Once the new dash cameras are installed by by Morrisville-based Mobile Communications America, officers also will begin using body cameras connected through Bluetooth to the dash cameras.

When the flashing lights on top of their car turn on, both the dash and body cameras begin recording automatically. This removes the possibility of officers forgetting to turn their camera on.

The body cameras are about the size of a business card and attach to an officer’s uniform through a magnet base inside the shirt. They will work outside the range of the car, recording on storage inside the camera, and can record in both standard and high definition.

The department also purchased body cameras that come in two pieces, a tiny camera attached by a wire to its battery pack on the officer’s waist band. These can run for longer times and are about one-fourth the size of the one-piece cameras. All the body cameras can record audio and video.

WatchGuard body cameras photographed by Trent Brown on July 25, 2019. The town of Cary, NC will be installing over 100 cameras like these on all of their officers in the fall of 2019. Trent Brown tbrown@newsobserver.com

Cary is the latest of North Carolina’s larger cities and towns to add body cameras on the uniforms of all officers.

Wilmington officers started wearing them in 2014, Charlotte got them in 2017 and Raleigh got them just last year.

So why has Cary lagged behind?

“It’s been a long process, and part of that was they wanted to make sure that they had the best vendor and that everything implemented was the best software,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “They wanted to make sure it’s done right and that we’ve got the best of the best.”

The best of the best meaning automatic recording and video storage built in the police department, not outsourced to cloud storage companies, officials explained.

The crime rate in Cary is significantly lower than in most of the Triangle and the state.

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Still, the cameras will help police in multiple ways, said Cary Police Capt. Steve Wilkins.

After officers respond to a situation, they will now be able to access the video that was just recorded from a small screen in their car. From there, the officer may classify the recording under different labels such as traffic violation.

The cameras will also enhance transparency and improve police interactions.

“The idea is that you’ll get the best performance possible from your officers,” Wilkins said. “We’re really trying to do the right thing every time.”

About four dash cameras are being installed in Cary police cars every day, a process that should be finished in five to six weeks. Then more than 100 body cameras will be distributed to officers.

This story was corrected at 1:10 p.m. July 30, 2019, to correct the location of WatchGuard.

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Trent Brown covers the Town of Cary and other odds and ends. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and is a Collegiate Network fellow.