Oregon Police Agencies Inherit Emergency Cameras

December 12, 2011

Law enforcement agencies in Umatilla and Morrow counties are glad to inherit cameras from a federal emergency preparedness program, but worry they won’t have the dollars to keep the cameras running.

The Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program installed the cameras as part of its evacuation plan in the event of an emergency at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, the East Oregonian reports. The depot, which once stockpiled tons of nerve agent and mustard gas for potential military use, is preparing for a permanent closure.

The Hermiston Police Department will spend about $25,000 to maintain eight of the cameras.

Law enforcement agencies have access to camera video recordings and use them to review auto crashes or other incidents, such as the death of a woman who was hit by a truck as she attempted to cross a street in Hermiston.

“There’s tremendous value in the cameras for us,” said police Lt. Jason Edmiston, acting chief of police for the Hermiston Police Department.

But the Umatilla Police Department and Morrow County Sheriff’s Office say they’re struggling to find money to pay for the cameras’ upkeep.

“We are inheriting the system fully up and operational,” Morrow County Undersheriff Steve Myren said, “Once it starts to deteriorate, that’s when we’ll have issues. To be honest, we just don’t know what that will cost us or how long we’ll be able to maintain the system.”

Morrow County uses the cameras to review crimes and monitor weather conditions on major roads. Myren said the cameras also act as “virtual backup” when an officer pulls a motorist over, because a dispatcher can zoom in and watch the incident progressing.

The program installed 36 cameras total, each of which cost about $4,000 to replace.

“I suppose it could be seen as a ‘Big Brother’ thing, but it’s not like we’ll be looking into people’s windows,” said Umatilla city manager Bob Ward. “It will be monitoring public spaces.”

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