Friday, July 10, 2009

Cameras in patrol cars benefit no one if not filming

Austin police have cameras in most patrol cars which have frequently proven to be an invaluable boon, but now the department is struggling to ensure its officers routinely use them. According to an editorial in today's Austin Statesman ("Value of getting it on the record, July 10"):

This is a very good time for Austin police officials to review the department's patrol car camera policies to determine whether they need to be strengthened, clarified or revised.

After several tragic incidents, this community and police officers have learned the value of video cameras in police work, and we're glad that most officers have become comfortable with them.

Video cameras have vindicated any number of officers wrongly accused of bad behavior. And they also have helped the department identify officers who are abusing their authority. But one thing we learned this week from Austin Assistant Police Chief David Carter is that cameras also are helpful as a training tool. Officers can view themselves in action and make improvements in how they deal with the public. That's an added benefit.

As in the past, the review of the camera policy was triggered by tragedy. The effort comes about two months after the fatal shooting of Nathaniel Sanders II by senior officer Leonardo Quintana, whose patrol car camera had not been turned on when he shot Sanders. One of two backup officers arriving at the scene in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek Apartments on Springdale Road also had not activated his camera. ... It was the third lethal-force incident in recent years that had not been captured on patrol car cameras.

Most Texas cities installed cameras in their patrol cars after the passage of Texas' racial profiling statute in 2001 which allowed them to gather fewer data elements at traffic stops if cameras were installed. But "installed" isn't the same as "turned on when I shot the guy." (City officials say they can't afford equipment upgrades that would make filming during encounters more automatic.)

I'm glad to see Chief Acevedo belatedly reviewing the policy and hope he decides to require officers to record encounters more comprehensively, establishing swift and sure punishments when they fail to do so - even on routine patrol, not just after critical incidents. "The camera was turned off" has become a too-routine excuse after high-profile APD shooting incidents, and for too long Austin PD seems to have tolerated a departmental culture where many officers turn their cameras off in situations where confrontations or violence may occur. But that's exactly when the cameras should be on.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why do Officers have a CHOICE about the cameras? These should be automatically engaged anytime a patrol car is turned on or a tape is placed in the recording device.. So why is it that a cop can turn his camera on and off manually?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

They only come on automatically when the car's lights are on.

Anonymous said...

In car video is absolutely the best tool for law enforcement anyone ever came up with. APD is foolish not to run the cameras as often as they can. Nothing demonstrates better what a thankless, dirty, heart-wrenching job officers have than the routine videos showing them spat upon, cursed, sideswiped, punched, and lied to. It is also the best tool for training officers and weeding out those officers who don't belong behind a badge. Period.

Soronel Haetir said...

Even worse, just like interrogation policies that only record the final confession not running the tape gives defense attorneys a huge wedge with juries.

There were 5 aquitals based on non-taping in a six month period from a town of 1000 people I used to live in. I don't know if the cops there ever learned the lesson.

One of the incidents was so bad that there was actually video before and after the questioned stop but not during.

R. Shackleford said...

If the cameras run constantly, might that constitute an invasion of privacy in some instances? And wouldn't that generate an ungodly amount of tape that would then need to be analyzed? Wilco is so far behind that it takes months to get a video tape as it is, I can't imagine the delay constantly running cameras would create. I'd like to see them run 24/7, but I don't see how it could be done, short of hiring full time analysts. I do believe that leo's ought not to be in control of their cameras, but I just don't see how that would be possible.

Soronel Haetir said...

R. Shackleford,

The media side ought to be fairly easy to deal with using modern digital systems. There should be no need for tape at all, perhaps burn eachcar shift to dvd or similar media for backup purposes. If retrieval is an issue that simply points to poor management systems being in place.

As for invasion of privacy, government employees take that burden voluntarily.

R. Shackleford said...

Gotcha. I think poor management systems are obviously already in place, judging from my experiences with the average wait time to get ahold of any video whatsoever. And it wasn't the gov. employees lack of privacy I was worried about:)

Soronel Haetir said...

Umm, given that squad car cameras are basically always pointing at roads and other public areas I don't see where the privacy concerns would be. I might not like it but the courts have ruled that people have a reduced expectation of privacy in their cars, and as far as their actions go basically no expectation of privacy when in public.

The second I actually do agree with, so where do you see privacy concerns?

R. Shackleford said...

If the cameras were always on, might we soon find that leo cars were suddenly "accidentally' pointed towards houses, businesses, and whatnot? "The cameras are always on, I just happened to catch (insert whoever) doing (insert whatever), so let's prosecute him" It's my understanding that a warrant is required for video surveillance.

Soronel Haetir said...

If a warrent is required for visible light survielence that is news to me. Infrared is a special case but I am not aware of such a requirement for normal video.

And aiui uncovered windows and open doors are already fair game for looking through.

Sojourner said...

How about something simple, like a policy of automatic unpaid one month suspension for failure to turn on cameras at each stop, and random audits of such.

Clearly this is a 'problem' without solution only because the PD finds it a very useful 'problem.'

Red Leatherman said...

R. Shackleford said...

If the cameras were always on, might we soon find that leo cars were suddenly "accidentally' pointed towards houses, businesses, and whatnot? "The cameras are always on, I just happened to catch (insert whoever) doing (insert whatever), so let's prosecute him"

I read that and slumped in my seat, seemed like a good idea and Shackelford comes up with a good reason not to have the camera on.
After thinking about it for awhile it occurs to me that if leos are going to do something unscrupulous to make a case, then they will do it anyhow.
I think that with all the big brother cameras around watching us, we may as well have some pointing back.

Anonymous said...

In today's technology based society where you can program your DVR at home with a computer or cell phone while you are out, why can't the dispatcher turn the cameras on when the officer calls in to report a stop? Then, we don't have to worry about the privacy issue, or the too much tape issue or the we can't get a video issue - it would be off during all the routine driving and such yet would be on for the stops.
Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

According to my HPD cop friends, they DONT want cameras in their cars. For state troopers its one thing, but for my gang task force buddies, the camera would hinder them from getting the "bad guys" at any cost.

They really have "the end justifies the means" attitude and the camera would force them to be honest and probably catch them lying and violating peoples rights (which they admittedly do, but hey, the guy is a scumbag - or so they tell me).

I'm definitely for cameras in ALL police cars and they should be on ALL the time.

Anonymous said...

They should be on all the time when an officer is contacting a citizen for any reason. The system can be activated in most cases, one of three ways, by turning on the lights, pressing record on the control panel, or activating the micophone worn on the officer's body. The APD policy is to record all officer intiated contacts as well as certain other situations. It is good that the Chief is moving to crack down on the policy.

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Anonymous said...

Leave the cameras on. If the camera is pointing at something that a person sitting in the same spot can see, so be it. That is no violation of privacy. And, you don't run out of space for video because they currently recycle tapes and whatnot within a certain amount of time absent a request to retain the video. Let the patrol car cameras roll.

Anonymous said...

For attornies some of you are very stupid. The new cameras are on once the engine is on. They record once the emergency lights turn on, travel over 90 MPH, by remote control (suprvisors or dispatcher). The cameras automatically rewind 30 seconds from the time they are activated. They also bluffer everything for one hour after turned off. The cameras are downloaded by driving under a docking station (semi WIFI) at the substation. The officers don't control them anymore.

I think 1st, 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments of the US Bill of Rights are more important than a requirement of their job. The camera can record any private conversation inside or outside of the vehicle. Say a cellphone call or while the vehicle is parked in their own driveway while off duty.

The camera should be manual only, it only takes a flip of a switch and can still rewind the thirty seconds.

How would you like to have a camera on you your entire day, hear everyting you say or do, someone miles away can watch and listen to everything?

Crooks will soon figure out how to send out an electronic signal to disrupt the camera (like a fuzz buster or radar jammer). Crooks, private investigtors, defense attornies, television stations, and others will purchase equipment which can download the recorded images off any patol car video system they drive beside.

We need to stick with the taped version of recordng the images.

Anonymous said...

If all police videos were in their untouched version I would say it's a good idea. But who's to say that they are all untouched. Today you can literally edit anything on a computer. Just check out this link:
www.adobe.com/products/premiere-elements/features.html

It is especially easy for those who have access to expensive video editing software and who have the best investigators working on the tapes. LOL people wake up.