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Charlie ‘Captain Gadget’ Halford was definitely onto something

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POSTED August 18, 2014 11:15 p.m.

Charlie Halford was dubbed “Captain Gadget” by some of his officers during his tenure as Manteca’s Police Chief from 1997 to 2008.

That was in reference to his emphasis on technology to maximize police officer efficiency in the real world of Manteca municipal budgets that have never exactly been loaded with dough to hire a lot of police officers.

Some technologies such as bean bag guns were aimed at less than lethal force. Most technology that Halford put in place was aimed at reducing the amount of time an officer spent away from patrolling and answering calls.

That was back in the Dark Ages of law enforcement high tech. Today you’d be hard pressed to find an officer who isn’t actively using high tech while doing their job whether it is using an on-board computer, dash cameras, infrared devices, electronic ticket writing devices or body cameras. That’s just a short list and primarily what officers ferry around with them supported by servers and such in their patrol unit trunks that would have made Livermore Lab technician back in 1990 jealous. There is a boatload of technology that police use away from the street to try and stay ahead of the crime curve. And for the most part it is paying huge dividends.

Consider this little tidbit out of Rialto, a city of 100,000 in San Bernardino County in Southern California: In the first year of the entire police force wearing cameras, citizens’ complaints against officers dropped a stunning 88 percent while use of force by police was off an impressive 60 percent.

Experts pin the declines on two things. First, citizens are finding it hard to dispute what the cameras for the most part capture in sound and images of their encounter with officers. Second, cameras serve as a third party observer that tends to keep in check the behavior of both the public and officer since they clearly indicate when one is being recorded.

The effectiveness of defusing situations that could either escalate into litigation or worse yet as what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, has already been demonstrated in Manteca. Although it doesn’t necessarily capture everything as it can’t see 360 degrees, a body camera put in perspective a suspect’s claim of excessive force when a police officer encountered him behind a darkened car wash several months ago.

The body camera clearly showed the suspect ignoring repeated instructions from the officer who also made it clear who he was. It also captured the man attacking the officer before triggering the officer’s response.

This brings us to a long talked about high tech deployment that Manteca is still struggling to get in place — street surveillance cameras. The biggest stumbling block is storage as California law requires all such footage from police operated cameras to be stored for a year. Video with sound gobbles up storage space faster than Joey Chestnut on a tear at a food eating contest.

There are two schools of thought on street security cameras. One is that they are somehow an invasion of privacy. The other centers on whether they are effective in preventing crime by improving arrests and convictions.

In the Age of Google Earth, seemingly 90 percent of the country carrying around smartphones with photographic capability rivaling that of the Apollo space program and private security cameras everywhere you go it is clear that your expectation of visual privacy isn’t very high in places that are clearly in public.

As for crime prevention they work if they lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for crimes. Research shows roughly 90 percent of all crime is committed by 10 percent of the criminals.

A classic example is Ripon Police. Thanks to Motorola needing cities to test out the effectiveness of an integrated security camera system, Ripon has been able to make the arrests of three bank robbers in three separate cases — twice without them leaving town and once when they got as far as the first exit over the Stanislaus River.

Ripon Police in patrol units as well as dispatch can monitor in real time a robber’s progression from inside a bank to driving down city streets thanks to cameras placed at strategic intersections. 

Cameras also have been used in Ripon to monitor unlawful behavior in and around part of the Stanislaus River. Manteca has had success likewise with its primitive security camera focused on the skate park that’s tucked away from public view along the Tidewater Bikeway.

The two places that city leaders repeatedly for years have said they wanted to place such cameras are Library Park and Southside Park — perennial trouble spots.

Library Park at times can be overrun by transients and “daytime homeless” —those that live in nearby boarding house style rooms and have a tendency to look for places to do drug deals and take drugs. Library Park is in their neighborhood, so to speak.

Southside Park has a historic problem with gangs that have effectively driven families and children away from using the neighborhood park despite the city making more than $150,000 in upgrades.

The time has come to spend the money —whether it is through a vendor in the cloud or physical storage — to at least make it easier to keep Library Park and Southside Park available for the enjoyment of all and not just gangsters, druggies, and the homeless.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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