ATWATER -- Three new cruisers, spike strips, cameras and recorders -- those are some of the new tools the Atwater Police Department has to fight crime.
The equipment is aimed at helping officers be more efficient, said Chief Richard Hawthorne of the Atwater Police Department.
The cruisers will be put to use soon after getting a few more finishing touches. They still need to be outfitted with various features, including push bars, computers and light bars.
All the department's cruisers will also have spike strips installed in the trunk, Hawthorne said. Before, none of the vehicles carried the pursuit-ending device.
All the officers have been trained on using spike strips. The style the Atwater Police Department uses is designed to puncture tires with small spikes, which break off in the tire. They slowly deflate the tire to prevent spinouts and accidents.
For investigative and evidence purposes, all officers have also been issued a digital camera and digital recorder, Hawthorne said. They not only improve officer efficiency, but also can provide the district attorney with evidence if necessary.
New safety features aren't limited to the field.
The department has also installed cameras around City Hall and the police department, Hawthorne explained. The cameras can record and are hooked up to a monitor in the dispatch center.
A similar set-up will soon be used at three Atwater schools. They're funded through a matched grant, and can be monitored at the dispatch center as well.
With a tight budget, the department is looking for ways to scale back costs without sacrificing safety, Hawthorne said. That includes looking for more grant funding and squeezing a little more life out of equipment, including patrol cars.
Councilman Gary Frago, a member of the Public Safety committee, commonly works with the police department to determine what it needs and makes possible changes before bringing proposals to the council.
Public safety is always a main concern, Frago said. "We give them more than they need because safety for citizens is a priority," he said. "Citizens come first."
The city has made other strides to improve law enforcement by taking advantage of technology.
The possibility of putting license-plate readers to use is one example of that, said Assistant City Manager Stan Feathers.
"Anytime you can utilize technology to reduce labor intensive costs and improve a critical service area, that's really important," he said. "We have to take advantage of those areas."
The council has taken action to improve safety beyond law enforcement, Feathers added.
"The City Council, they've been so supportive of looking for ways to improve public safety," he said. "Everything from law enforcement to traffic control to sidewalk issues."
By taking advantage of grants, the new tools the police department's receiving has had less of an impact on the city's budget.
The spike strips, digital cameras and digital recorders were all funded through grants, Hawthorne said.
"Right now there isn't a lot of grant funding available," he said. "The competition is high from law enforcement agencies around the country. It comes down to how prepared you are."
Judging from the city's success in grants with the police department, they'll be prepared for more opportunities down the road.
The department already plans to work with the school district to expand the use of surveillance cameras to other schools by applying for another grant next year.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.