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New cameras for Becker County Sheriff's squad cars

Next time you're pulled over by a Becker County deputy, smile pretty for the new digital camera in the squad car.

And we won't even get into the lovely new taser you're going to feel if you decide to pick a fight.

Becker county commissioners on Tuesday agreed to spend about $85,000 on a dozen Watchguard video cameras -- part of a system that includes computer software, servers, storage and a dozen wireless transmitters to be worn by deputies.

The St. Cloud Police Department field tested several different systems and found Watchguard to be the best, Becker County Sheriff Kelly Shannon said.

The new digital cameras will always be recording, even if they are not activated by the deputy.

The system would have automatically captured the unsolved shooting of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker in November, had that police department been using the system, Shannon said.

The system automatically saves all the data and "they could have gone back and punched it in," possibly capturing the shooter on video.

The wireless transmitters will provide audio to go along with the video, and will have a range of several miles -- so audio will be available even when a suspect is captured after a long foot chase, he said.

The department's current camera system is obsolete and uses VHS tapes that take two to three hours to transfer to a useable format for prosecutors, Shannon said.

"We are down to three cameras out of 18 that work right now," he said.

The 12 new cameras will be installed in patrol cars. Investigator cars will not have the system.

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The county board agreed to go with the Watchguard system, even though a competing system was slightly less expensive.

The $85,000 cost was not included in the sheriff's department budget and will come out of county general reserves.

The department will also be allowed to purchase five new tasers, with another 15 to be purchased next year.

"Our tasers are obsolete," Shannon said. "They can't fix them anymore and they will be discontinued within two years."

The new tasers will feature two cartridges instead of one, allowing an officer to disable two attackers without taking time to reload, Shannon said.

"It's a tremendous tool," Shannon said. "Just a couple weeks ago it was either shoot a guy or use the taser -- we used a taser. They're also used quite often in the jail, surprisingly."

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