Policing The Police with Video Cameras

Posted by Richard Lawson | Jul 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Policing The Police - Law Enforcement Officers Ordered to Wear Video Cameras and the Resulting Benefits to all Parties:

In August of 2013, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, ruled that Manhattan's stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional, and she ordered police officers in certain precincts to wear tiny cameras when dealing with the public.

Judge Scheindlin explained that these cameras provide various benefits, including providing “a contemporaneous, objective record of stop-and-frisks” that might “either confirm or refute the belief of some minorities that they may have been stopped simply as a result of their race, or based on the clothes they wore, such as baggy pants or a hoodie.” She also pointed out the cameras would encourage more “respectful” interactions if parties know they are being recorded.

The Rialto, California Police Department initiated (voluntarily) a similar program, with half of the department's 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras. The results aligned with Judge Scheindlin's predictions. In the first 12 months of the program, complaints against the police dropped 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Furthermore, officer use of force fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.

“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Rialto police chief, William A. Farrar, said. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

Farrar believes the cameras may offer further benefits. The department is currently trying to determine whether having video evidence in court has also led to more convictions. For example, it helps with statements from domestic abuse victims. Rialto Sgt Josh Lindsay explained, "[b]y the time those cases get to court often things have cooled down and the victim retracts. But with the video you see her with the bloody lip. There's nothing lost in translation."

William J. Bratton, who has led the police departments in New York and Los Angeles, believes that the cameras benefit officers as well.  “So much of what goes on in the field is ‘he-said-she-said,' and the camera offers an objective perspective,” Mr. Bratton said. “Officers not familiar with the technology may see it as something harmful. But the irony is, officers actually tend to benefit. Very often, the officer's version of events is the accurate version.”

There has, however, been some push back to the implementation of these cameras. Among the criticisms is the price. “It's definitely not cheap,” said Paul Figueroa, an assistant chief with the Oakland Police Department. “But over the long term, just from a liability and management perspective, it's definitely an investment that's worth it.”

Critics of the camera have also raised privacy concerns. People worry that their house will be on the nightly news. The New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director, Donna Lieberman, acknowledges the privacy implications, but nonetheless supports police video surveillance. “[W]hen you're interacting with the Police Department, there is so much ‘he said, she said.' The power imbalance is enormous.”

Various models of the camera are currently available. Some are clipped to the officer's vest or collar, others are worn as headgear, and they are so small that they can even be worn to the side of an officer's sunglasses. Lithium ion batteries allow the cameras to run all day, and all of the videos are uploaded automatically to a central server. The camera also has a "pre-event video buffer," which continuously records and holds the most recent 30 seconds of video when the camera is off.

Experts increasingly agree that these cameras will soon be the standard in police departments, just as cameras in patrol cars have become commonplace. Other departments around the country have since followed suit with this measure intended to police the police, and hopefully, Georgia will get on board soon.

In the context of DUI investigations in Georgia, having everything on video would be a great benefit to all parties.  For the State, police observations of impairment such as glassy eyes, slurred speech, or unsteadiness could be see in the body-worn videos far better than on a dash-cam video.

For the defense, having video and audio would clear up any allegations that implied consent was not read or if a person really did in fact refuse testing.  Also, the performance on any field sobriety testing would be easier to evaluate in court by having a camera closer to the action.

For everyone, the cameras would keep all sides honest.  They would lead to a more just result with less litigation required.  It would also garner more respect of our police officers.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Georgia DUI Defense Attorneys

At the Law Office of Richard S. Lawson, we have offices conveniently located throughout metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia. If we do not have a convenient office, we will come to you. We practice throughout Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. If your case is in an area we do not serve, we will find you an attorney in your area free of charge. Our office is part of a State-wide network of Georgia DUI Lawyers. Contact us 24/7 for immediate legal help. Our attorneys are standing by. Your DUI Case will not defend itself. Your Best Georgia DUI Defense Begins Here!