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Candid Camera - Escalon Adds To Arsenal
At a cost of about $100,000 - financed via an intracity loan - the Escalon Police Department now has nine vehicles equipped with in-car cameras. The cameras record what is going on in front of the police cars and also has a rear camera, giving an overall view of activity in and around the car.

"We wanted to bring the cameras on board for a number of reasons," explained Police Chief Jim Shaw. "One is for clarity of activity, also the evidentiary value, report writing and citizen concerns."

Most departments today have the in-car cameras, and Shaw said they can offer protection, both to officers and those they deal with on a daily basis.

"All the patrol vehicles will be equipped," Shaw said of the nine cars having them installed.

There is also a secure server at the police department and the cameras feed directly in to that.

The Watch Guard company out of Allen, Texas got the contract to provide the cameras and a technician from that firm, in addition to a crew from Lehr Auto Electric and Emergency Equipment out of Sacramento were busy outfitting all the patrol cars with the proper wiring, cameras and on board monitors over the last several days. Watch Guard specializes in digital in-car video systems.

Escalon City Council members had the chance to view the cameras and were provided with an overview of the new addition to the police department as part of Monday night's council meeting.

"The camera system is front and rear facing," explained Justin Vanman of Watch Guard. "We're typically on site for a couple of days, we do the training and configuration, make sure everything is working."

Shaw said Escalon would also have at least one of its officers be "trained as a trainer" so they will be able to provide instruction on the use of the system to future new officers, or those in the reserves.

Vanman said the cameras are "recording constantly" and are able to "capture in the video" what the officer sees out his or her window.

Shaw said the loan from the city's transportation fund will be paid back out of the police services impact fees so the actual cost will be borne by the police department.

"If we had had these before, the shooting incident with officer (Shane) Johnson would have been recorded," Shaw said, noting that if it had been, they might have been able to positively identify the shooter.

Johnson was shot in the shoulder during a struggle with a burglary suspect in the alley behind Rite Aid this past summer and remains on leave. He has already undergone a couple of surgeries to repair damage to the shoulder and there is no time frame yet for his return to the department. There also has been no arrest in the case.

Johnson is one of two officers currently on leave from the department; officer Gustavo Flores is also off, though Shaw said he is tentatively scheduled to return sometime in October. A third officer, Rob Lackey, has just come back on active duty. When the department was down all three fulltime officers, they were able to utilize reserves and also saw regular patrol officers putting in extra time.

"I really have nothing but respect for the guys who have worked through this hardship," said Shaw. "They've given me extra shifts, the reserves have been coming in, I see them all out there working hard."

Formerly a Level I (One) reserve officer, K.J. Vandagriff has also just been brought on board as the newest fulltime Escalon Police Department officer. His position has been funded with SLESF, Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Funds, money, with the grant good for three years, the City of Escalon picking up the fourth year. The SLESF grant was for $288,100 and came in later than anticipated, but Shaw said when it did come in, he was able to hire Vandagriff.

The EHS alum, who also graduated with an Associates Degree in physical education for MJC, has been with the department since June 2008, starting as a reserve and working up to the Level I post, where he could patrol independently, without the supervision of a fulltime officer. Vandagrifff said though he wasn't an Explorer in high school, he took a couple of law enforcement courses at MJC and then decided to go to the Police Academy because the field both interested and intrigued him.

"I like going out and helping the citizens of Escalon," Vandagriff said. "I grew up here, I have friends and family here.

"There was some getting used to it at first, being on my own, but I've had Officer Flores, Officer (Anthony) Hardgraves and Sgt. (Dustin) Brookshire, all of them as FTO's (Field Training Officers) and they did a great job preparing me for a fulltime job."