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Eugene police stand firm on DUII arrest record.

Byline: THAD BUCHANAN For The Register-Guard

THE REGISTER-GUARD got the story wrong: The Eugene Police Department's overall use of video cameras to document actions and the enforcement of laws against driving under the influence of intoxicants is exemplary.

The EPD was the first police department in this region - and one of only a few in the United States - to install video cameras in patrol cars in the mid-1990s. Today, the EPD makes extensive use of video cameras to record civil disturbance responses, and the department has a policy and a trained video team for this purpose.

On a per-officer basis, EPD makes more DUII arrests than 65 percent of other municipal police departments across the nation. These are all things that Eugeneans should be proud of.

Despite claims published in The Register-Guard on Sept. 29 and 30, the Eugene Police Employees Association does not expect to bargain about the installation of video cameras in cars. Moreover, there has never been credible evidence that employees tampered with the video equipment. With the pattern of damage linked to inherent design flaws, primarily in the cable connections, supervisors concluded that the damage was the result of frail equipment rather than employee tampering.

At worst, the EPD is guilty of inadequate management of a cutting-edge technology project in the midst of high staff turnover. (Shortly after the video camera project began, the public safety director was terminated, the EPD was reorganized, Chief Leonard Cook left and several captains and lieutenants left or retired.) As one of the first departments to try making use of video cameras in cars, we learned many painful lessons about using this technology.

One point The Register-Guard got right is that the EPD did not adequately respond to these problems, including pursuing warranty claims against the camera maker. It is clear that project leaders did not adequately transfer the responsibility for this project to their replacements. By the time new command staff had taken up the project, technology had changed and more reliable equipment was available.

The fact that we have learned these lessons is clearly demonstrated by our use of video during the recent riot. Does it really make sense that a police department that sent only 40 officers against a crowd of 1,500 drunken rioters, and videotaped what occurred, is a department so afraid of public scrutiny that it feels the need to "cover its own blue-clad rear ends," as The Register-Guard said in an Oct. 3 editorial, by destroying video camera equipment? Our commitment to using video as an effective law enforcement tool, including in cars, is unwavering. Video is one of many tools we use to increase transparency and accountability in policing.

As for DUII arrests per capita, the EPD consists of a small police force - Eugene has fewer police officers per capita than 80 percent of cities across America. The size of the police force is not reflective of the size of the crime problem, however: Eugene's rate of serious crimes is higher than that of 90 percent of all cities in America. Additionally, Oregonians drink more alcohol than average, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and our region has a serious drug problem.

With a small force and a big crime problem, Eugene police have their work cut out for them. Relying upon community input, the EPD has allocated its limited resources to address the most significant public safety problems in the community. On average, EPD officers make 2.5 times as many arrests as officers in other U.S. cities, and more DUII arrests per officer than in a majority of cities. We also solve a larger proportion of crimes than average. And, despite Eugene's high crime rate and intoxicant consumption, Eugene's rate of fatal and injury traffic accidents is average compared to other cities'.

Despite misplaced criticisms, even The Register-Guard recognizes that the EPD accomplishes more DUII arrests per capita than Salem and Portland. While our DUII arrest rate per officer is above average, it would be possible to double or maybe triple the number of arrests with additional resources. If the newspaper would like to see the EPD change its enforcement priorities, we would welcome its participation along with all the other members of the community. But the insinuation that we have neglected enforcement against drunk drivers is just plain wrong.

Thad Buchanan is chief of the Eugene Police Department.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 8, 2002
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