New technology allows police cruisers to record nearly everything

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- On a neighborhood street, Officer Zac Perron pulls over a driver who has run a stop sign.

Perron's dashboard camera recorded a standard view of the traffic stop -- but the rest of his cruiser's video system recorded much more.

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Palo Alto Police Officer Zac Perron CBS News

In Palo Alto, every police car is equipped with multiple cameras that provide a panoramic view.

"We've got now five cameras in every regular beat officer's patrol car that captures, like, a 270-degree field of view around the car," Perron explained.

A touch screen allows Perron to tap on any one angle to pull it up. One camera points forward. Two side cameras cover blind spots. A prisoner camera watches the back seat. And then there's a rear camera.

The system captures up to 40 hours of video, which makes it possible for officers to go back in time. If they drive by something that may be important but don't notice it immediately, the technology allows them to revisit it later.

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A touch screen shows a police cruiser's multiple camera angles CBS News
Are body cameras for officers worth the investment?

"The primary purpose is for us to be able to preserve evidence that we can use in court later," Perron said.

But the video is also about keeping tabs on how officers interact with the public. Dennis Burns, Palo Alto's police chief, told me the cameras help hold everyone accountable.

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Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns CBS News

"We hire people for character and we want them to have character and to treat people with dignity and respect," Burns said. "And this really should be kind of secondary to everything else. It's just another tool that we have to show that we are doing the right thing."

Burns has already seen one effect: a drop in complaints against officers. With five cameras watching, chances are the real story is being recorded.

As for the driver Perron pulled over -- he let him off with a warning.