By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

The next time a deputy sheriff asks you to step out of your car, you may want to smile for the camera.

From chasing felony suspects to making simple traffic violations, work for the Del Norte County Sheriffs Department was made easier yesterday with the installation of an in-car video system.

This is going to be a valuable tool, said Sheriff Jim Maready. It will get a lot of usage, and we can use it when its time to go to court.

The in-car video systems became in vogue in the 1990s when what seemed to be routine traffic stops ended up on videotape showing altercations between officers and motorists. Sometimes, the tape was all that was left available to identify suspects when officers were killed on duty.

Along with the in-car video camera, officers will have remote microphones to monitor conversations. Greg Parks, district manager of Kustom Signals, Inc., the company that manufactures the in-car systems, said this equipment also has proven useful when suspects and officers offer different versions of an arrest.

According to Maready, five department vehicles will be fitted with the video cameras at a cost of around $4,000 per vehicle. The tab is being picked up by the State of California, thanks to a State Technology grant of $109,000 last July.

We went shopping, said Maready. We looked at three different systems and came to the decision this would be the most beneficial.