Tuesday, June 01, 2010

New Austin PD dashcams will automatically activate

After repeated cases in which officers failed to turn on in-car dashcams during high-profile incidents, Austin PD will begin to install digital cameras in their vehicles that automatically turn on in response to predesignated cues that can't be controlled by the officer. Reports Noelle Newton from KVUE ("Digital cameras coming to East Austin patrol cars," May 28):

When patrol car cameras aren't used properly, it can stir just as much controversy. We will never see the moment Officer Leonardo Quintana fatally shot Nathaniel Sanders.

At APD, it's currently left up to officers to activate the patrol car cameras.

"Yeah, that has a lot of officers worried. The first thing that they do is make sure our camera is on which you know, it can take away from acting as quickly as you need to be,” said Officer Jay McCormick.

The system is ten years old and uses VHS tapes.

This fall a new digital camera system will do the thinking for the officers. Other departments including the Travis County Sheriff's Office use the technology.

The system APD is looking at will automatically activate two cameras--one on the dash, and one in the back seat. Commander Troy Gay says up to 18 triggers can be used such as the opening of a car door.

The footage will automatically download into a video management system.

"It will actually be better for us to monitor as supervisors to view what took place quicker,” said Gay.

Eventually the cameras could send live video to be monitored by supervisors.

This move can't happen quick enough as far as I'm concerned and should be replicated by other agencies statewide. When Texas' racial profiling law passed, the state issued bonds to purchase cameras for local police. But those VHS-based systems are now out of date and, going forward, digital systems like the one being implemented in Austin.

Earlier this year an appellate judge criticized Texas courts for ignoring instances where police intentionally disable their dashcams or rely on police testimony that blatantly contradicts what's on the recording. Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot on Fort Worth's 2nd Court of Appeals wrote in a dissent that:

Repeatedly, we are asked to review records of DWI stops during which there is no audio or video record of the event. Why do I believe there should be audio or audio and video record of the DWI stops? Because the law requires, and did so at the time of this stop, either an audio or audio and video record or the filing of a racial profiling report for each stop. See Tex Code Crim. Proc. art. 2.133-.135. The City of Fort Worth has conscientiously provided the means for complying with this law. ...

An appellate court should give no weight to testimony that is disproved by the objective record of the actual events. And I believe that the majority should address the issue of an officer’s intentionally disabling the audio recorder and testifying directly contrary to the audio record. ...

At some point, courts must address the repeated failure of officers to use the recording equipment and their repeated inability to remember whether the car they were driving on patrol or to a DWI stop contained the video equipment the City of Fort Worth has been paying for. If the law requires recording to qualify for the exception to filing racial profiling reports, then is the officer not obligated to make sure that there is tape in a traditional video camera or that a digital camera is activated? When the actual recording conflicts with the officer’s testimony, the defendant’s testimony, or another witness’s testimony, a court cannot pretend that the emperor is wearing new clothes just because someone testifies that he is.

Judging by that critique, forcing police to actually use cameras at traffic stops may only be half the battle. Then comes the challenge of getting courts to stop taking police officers' word over the audio or video record when the two contradict.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

"This move can't happen quick enough as far as I'm concerned and should be replicated by other agencies statewide."

Since it was an unfunded mandate to begin with, I assume you would support that the state purchase the digital cameras.

We always wanted the cameras, our city could not afford them or said they couldn't. :)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It wasn't "an unfunded mandate to begin with," the state issued $18 million in bonds to pay for the original systems. My recollection is that Houston and Dallas were the only two cities which applied and didn't get all the cameras they asked for (and were thus exempted form the requirement) - the smaller departments all could have gotten the VHS systems when the law was implemented if they applied.

Cameras more than pay for themselves when you consider the time saved in court costs (e.g., more pleas, fewer suppression hearings,), lawsuits, etc.. The problem is the system is fragmented so the county reaps court savings and the city police view it as a cost. For taxpayers, though, it's cheaper to have a video record to protect good cops, identify bad ones, and hold culpable the guilty.

Anonymous said...

It became unfunded when the second rate equipment the state bought had to be replaced with city funds. We were constantly in and out of the repair shop. BTW, it was a 150 mile round trip to the nearest authorized repair shop.

Something that should have been questioned but never was: How did that contractor ever get the contract? I would have liked to have seen all of the bids and how that process worked.

I agree with all points in your second paragraph.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the seven FBI audio/visual cam towers that surrounded the Davidian Compound, all of whom mysteriously went dead the morning of the final assault, as well as the missing photos from the ATF officers who were seen loading up on camera gear before that assault. All ignored in the coverup by the courts. You can't make the judges and LEO professionals do the right thing.
Citizen juries ought to take notice. These days the police are as likely to be lying in court as the defendant.

doran said...

"Then comes the challenge of getting courts to stop taking police officers' word over the audio or video record when the two contradict."

Well, Grits, who do you expect those judges to believe: The cops or the judges' lyin' eyes and ears?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, 2 of 3 judges on the panel believed the cops over the contradictory audio record. But Justice Dauphinot IMO deserves tremendous credit for pointing out the naked status of the emperor.

Donald said...

When DPS started to roll out patrol car video equipment, I had one client who said to me, in mock defiance, that "they can put one of those (expletives deleted) things in my car the same day they put one in my captain's office)."

Since then, cameras have gained pretty universal acceptance as a tool of police work, and officers have seen for themselves that the recordings avoid more trouble than they cause.

Having said that, I think it's possible to get carried away with these things. I've had clients who were told to record their entire shifts, and frankly I think that's unduly invasive. If you distrust your employee that much you should take him off the road. It's not even in the department's best interests; the harder you go looking for reasons for people to sue you, the more likely that they will.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Donald, I've never, ever heard of officers "who were told to record their entire shifts." I agree that would be pointless and wasteful, but it absolutely makes sense to record every citizen encounter precisely because, as you put it, "recordings avoid more trouble than they cause."

R. Shackleford said...

I would love to see wilco get this system. Many are the bs stops that would be eliminated if leos knew they'd be held accountable.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that all lawyers have had one of the clients that I had once, who insisted on a DWI trial in spite of a BAC of .18. He was arrested by a constable whose patrol car was equipped with video, and the video was running during the entire arrest and trip to jail, which was around 45 minutes. The defendant was so obnoxious (and so drunk) during the entire encounter that about 20 minutes in, I was wondering why the constable hadn't beaten him senseless, since I personally wanted to do just that. The defendant kept insisting on a trial, until he saw himself on the video. He was threatening the police officer, his family, the president, and being abusive during the entire 45 minute and could have been charged with a couple more crimes. The constable was beyond professional, and kept calling him sir and being patient with him, which sort of tells me he was very aware of that video running. I told my client that if we got 6 convicted cop killers on the jury, we might possibly have a chance of beating it, but otherwise, a jury wasn't even going to give him probation, and for certain the judge wouldn't after seeing that video. He took a plea.

Anonymous said...

It's just kind of eerie to think that a video camera must be running for evidence/proof of the cops behavior. To have to watch over someone's shoulder to make sure they're doing the right thing... creepy. What in the world is going on in the workplace? My guess is leadership (quality) is lacking, all the way up.

duaze said...

With common TiVo digital technology the cameras could easily record 100% of the time in a two week loop.

A database could automatically record the video location of the same "predesignated cues" mentioned in your post. These could include activating lights, siren, public address, rapid accelleration or decelleration, or even things like opening a door or window... Sensors in the back seat and doors could automatically mark the video location of any suspect's ride.

Since it would be a rolling 2 week recording, the officer would have plenty of time to download video of incidents. Heck you could even have it done wirelessly whenever the patrol until returns to the station... you could even have the entire video downloaded automatically and emailed to workers in India to have a human review them for anything interesting... since India's day is our night they could have the interesting bits picked out and sent back to the police station before the officer comes in for his next shift.

This sounds fanciful but it is all easily within our current technological capabilities. Heck there are iPhone apps more complicated that this.

duaze said...

... and as soon as the 4G cell networks are common the police cars could stream 100% of their video back to a data center in real time. This would allow all video to be stored from all patrol units indefinately.

Anonymous said...

Here's a novel idea. how about holding the officer criminally responsible when testimony is delivered and know to contradict actual events, or better, if anything about the recording system is dismantled? As a 'free' society we definitely allow the nazi's to wrote their own play book WAY too often.