CLAYTON, N.C. — The equipment needed for undercover crime fighting is often too expensive for small police departments to afford. So many are turning to the state for help.
The successful program loans out old, banged-up cars. The clunkers are worth about $300, but the $8,000 in surveillance equipment -- including tiny cameras are hidden throughout the interior -- makes them a valuable crime-fighting tool.
Crime Control's Law Enforcement Supply Services loans out six of the fully-loaded vehicles for free. That means local law enforcement, such as the Clayton Police Department, that likely could not afford such high-tech equipment can make drug buys and bust dealers with video backup.
"It's been very successful for us. We made numerous arrests with the use of the vehicle," said Det. John Coley of the Clayton Police Department.
In seven years, the fleet of vehicles helped officers across the state confiscate nearly $3 million in illegal drugs, $750,000 in cash, and make more than 3,000 arrests.
With four separate cameras, it's hard to dispute the evidence. Most defendants plead guilty instead of going to trial.
The loaner program works even when criminals catch on.
"Once one of the vehicles gets recognized, then people won't do business with it. So, once it gets recognized we can take it back and send it somewhere else in the state and other folks can use it," said Neil Woodcock of Law Enforcement Support Services.
Since law enforcement has various nondescript vehicles to choose from, drug dealers are left guessing if the next car is undercover.
Law Enforcement Support Services often gets cars and equipment through military surplus.
The agency also loans out night vision goggles and secret recording devices to local police.