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Cottage Grove police adding HD video to crime processing, interviewing

Cottage Grove police detective Shawn Ebeling (top) talks with instructor Wadi Sawabini during a law enforcement training last week about the use of video recording of crime scenes and for surveillance. (Bulletin photo by Scott Wente)

Cottage Grove police are adding high-quality video cameras to their crime-fighting tools.

Some officers in the police department are being trained to use hand-held, high-definition video cameras to record crime scenes, conduct surveillance and interview victims and suspects.

The department was the host last week of a three-day law enforcement training conference on the use of video recording. The conference drew authorities from around the Twin Cities and as far as South Dakota.

Their field exercises included shooting video of a mock crime scene outside Cottage Grove City Hall. The scenario depicted a gunfight involving drug dealers. Fake guns and bullets were staged on the grounds and the trainees learned the proper process for documenting the crime scene on video.

They also practiced shooting surveillance video by recording from vehicles and learned to document scenes in varying light conditions.

The advantage of using video is that it can show distance and juxtaposition in ways still photography cannot, said trainer Wadi Sawabini, who was contracted by the Midwest Counterdrug Training Center to lead the conference.

In a real case, that video could be entered as evidence for a trial, just like crime scene photographs.

"The whole idea is to make this easy for the jury to understand," Sawabini said.

Cottage Grove staff participating in the training were detectives Shawn Ebeling and Greg Malcolm, Sgt. Steve McCarthy and Diane McCabe.

It was among the first law enforcement training sessions held at the new public safety facility at City Hall. An advantage of the new headquarters is that there is space for law enforcement training programs, said Public Safety Director Craig Woolery.

And by hosting a training session, Cottage Grove often can get officers enrolled in the training for free. It also reduces department expenses because local cops don't have to travel elsewhere for training.

"We never had the space or appropriate facility to host training," Woolery said of the former public safety headquarters.

Prior to the training, Ebeling said, the Cottage Grove department purchased two video cameras using criminal forfeiture money. More officers will be trained on the cameras and the department will develop a policy on how and when they are used, but they could be brought in on any variety of cases.

Also, Ebeling said, they will be helpful when interviewing victims. The cameras are small and unobtrusive but still provide high-quality video and audio. Police could use them to interview victims in their home or hospital or to interview a suspect in jail.

"We can reach out to them and get that valuable information," Ebeling said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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