Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making the Case For Dashcams in Every Police Car

We see the stories every day, YouTube videos, and Internet videos gone viral, the visual impact that video has on a story cannot understated.  So why are there not videos cameras in every police car?  Many people believe that the Rodney King case would not have had the same result if a video was not taken of the incident.  Interestingly, it is that case that many think caused some agencies to not want video in the cars, but why not.  In one recent study it was determined that if a video is in a police cruiser the officer is more likely to be extra careful and honest in the police work they do.  In the King case, some of the officers involved were charged with filing false police reports do to the inconsistencies in what the video showed.  So, why not put videos in every patrol car?

The main argument advanced by the police departments opposed to the video equipped cars is the the cost involved.  In the study, the group found that the cost per car is minimal when compared to the savings a police agency will see in resolving baseless lawsuits and civil rights claims.  One expert suggested that the department can stagger the equipment so that some cars actually have working cameras and some will not, the officers will not know which cars have the video capability.  The expert argues that will save half the cost but have the same deterrent effect that would be obtained with 100 percent compliance.

In DUI cases the videos would save countless hours of unneeded testimony in Court, saving millions of dollars on an annual basis.  The video could resolve conflicts quickly between the accused making claims of abuse or misconduct and conversely the video could quickly and efficiently settle criminal trials once the tape shows the suspect is either guilty on not guilty of the charges.  So who is behind the opposition force in not equipping all cars with recording equipment, the Unions?  Is it true that police unions oppose cameras because they want the case to revolve around the officer's word, the statements in the police report that go unchallenged, the cop's word versus the criminal defendant's word?

According to one Bakersfield DUI Attorney who litigates criminal cases on a daily basis, the video in any given case causes the client to "come down to earth" quickly.  Once confronted with damning evidence of guilt, the client will typically want to settle the case without going to trial.  The memory of a defendant is often clouded and the video is a decisive factor in whether a case is plea bargained.  On the other hand, in some cases the video vindicates the defendant and can be used to persuade the District Attorney to dismiss charges in a case that otherwise may have led to an injustice.

In the final analysis, there can be no reasonable argument that a video in every criminal case is not a good idea.  The hard part is actually implementing a system that would make it happen, California needs to catch up to other states that have made it happen.