Monday, April 23, 2012

Rules are for other people: Police dashcam edition

Last year Dallas PD established a unit to review daschcam video, the Dallas News reported, but has suspended the program "because officers felt they were being nitpicked with disciplinary action for minor infractions" ("Dallas police to suspend squad car video reviews due to officers' complaints," April 23). Here's the list of nitpicky offenses the local union says shouldn't be monitored in that way:
These kinds of problems were found during the review process. Some could be considered serious violations warranting disciplinary action; others fall into a gray area where officers feel they should be allowed to exercise discretion. Officers:

Gave chase without activating lights and sirens.

Exceeded the speed limit in residential areas or active school zones during chases.

Topped the speed limit by more than 20 mph during pursuits and other emergency calls.

Failed to stop at stop signs or red lights during chases.

Violated the strict pursuit policy, for instance by chasing a motorist who fled while getting a traffic ticket.

Failed to activate wireless microphones, resulting in no audio recording of events during an investigation or arrest.

Failed to notify dispatchers that they were involved in pursuits.

Deactivated video recorders during police pursuits and assist-officer calls.

Failed to download video from their squad cars at the end of every shift. (If this isn’t done, the unit sometimes fills up and will no longer record.)

Moved GPS antennas from the car’s interior to the trunk, where reception is poor or nonexistent.

SOURCE: Dallas Police Department
Chief David Brown said, “The folklore among officers is, ‘I’m afraid to go five miles over the speed limit because I’ll be disciplined,’” but many of these seem like more serious infractions than that characterization implies.

On this blog I frequently see commenters insisting (e.g., here and here) that enforcing even the most petty criminal statute or bureaucratic regulation is vital because "it's the law" and otherwise we'd have anarchy if schoolteachers didn't lose their jobs over marijuana, if people who overstay their visas aren't deported over a traffic ticket, etc.. I wonder, will those same critics feel that every jot and tittle of the law and city policy should be enforced on Dallas police officers, or is strict enforcement only something that should apply to pot smokers and Mexicans?


Anonymous said...

These are policies, not laws. There is, I believe, a difference. Police are asked to do a job must people wouldn't want to do. Every move scrutinized by blogs where the administrator and others get as much time as they want to dissect what the officer did, while the officer sometimes only had fractions of seconds to react. These policies do make officers not want to do their job, for fear of getting a day off. I didn't see any egregious violations in that list myself. I don't care if they went over 20 mph while chasing someone. How else are they going to catch them. Now a days it seems the rules are made for the crooks to get away.

Scott in South Austin said...

I have a problem with them disconnecting microphones and dashcams. PD asked for that equipment to help document the traffic stop, pursuit, or whatever the response nature is. Disconnecting or turning this equipment off subjects the municipality to a host of questions and increases the cost of litigation.

We taxpayers paid for that equipment to improve your safety and to protect you while doing a very challenging job. If you don't like being scrutinized, go to work for DPS and patrol the roads between Ozona and El Paso. If you're in Austin, use the equipment. Your paid to be a professional.

Chris said...

Disconnecting cameras, not turning on microphones, relocating GPS units - these are tactics used to hide their actions from potential review if there is a complaint later. I'm not sure what disciplinary action would/should be taken for these things, but it's the type of thing that the folks who are supposed to enforce the law should not be doing. The chase issues are also more serious than the Anonymous poster above implies that high, potentially unsafe chase speeds are no big deal as long as the criminal is caught. Really? How many of these chases were to apprehend someone so dangerous that chasing them through a school zone or residential area at high speed is warranted? That's what radios and helicopters are for! Chasing someone running away from a traffic ticket? You have their contact information, so what is the point of chasing them? Where is the social benefit? We need some common sense here.

Hook Em Horns said...

Police officers, in general, resent accountability especially to civilian authority.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"These are policies, not laws. "

Read closer. Actually, there are some of both on that list.

Anonymous said...

Anon 23:04,

Are you nuts? They don't want to be questioned because they are violating policy AND the law. I've watched officers use lights and sirens to move people out of the way to rush to lunch, no less. Sirens, lights and speeding just to join their brothers at Lubys. As for being scrutinized by their bosses? Damn right they need to be scrutinized. Just as pilots pushing a 737 are scrutinized by their airline, the FAA and the pax in back; some 22 year old with an AA degree carrying a badge and a gun needs the same oversight. It was video cameras that caught the criminal assault against the kid burglar in Houston - cops repeatedly kicking the kid in his testicles. They don't want the job because of the scrutiny? Get another - Starbucks is hiring and having seen off-duty officers put on raid jackets to "panhandle" a free cup it may be an appropriate location. And no, the rules aren't made for crooks - the DA's association, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and SCOTUS makes sure that. Oh, and before you go off on something you obviously have little knowledge of, I carried a badge for 20+ years.

Anonymous said...

1) The laws, both wise and stupid, need to be followed.

2) The stupid and unnecessary policies need to be changed, not ignored.

Typically, compliance with policies are reviewed as part of either a) a problem remediation (i.e., there was a problem, it was evaluated, and failure to follow a policy was determined to the the root cause), or b) an audit.

In either case, identification of a failure to comply with policy in one instance might prompt a wider review than just that one instance.

Anonymous said...

Most police injuries and death come via traffic accidents. We hear a constant drumbeat of "officer safety, officer safety, officer safety when policies are made and followed for handcuffing subjects, shooting dogs, using military tactics, et. So it's time for strenuous and vigorous enforcement of policies designed to enhance officer safety in cars. If they repeatedly drive over the speed limit, turn off or disable monitoring equipment or abuse the rules in any way: fire them, fine them, arrest them. It's all about officer safety!

Anonymous said...

8:32PM, What you say is true regarding officer deaths, but the 2nd most common cause is suicide. Cops kill themselves to avoid being held accountable for their crimes. We're seeing dozens each year and we document them here:

Anonymous said...

I live in Houston, carry a badge my self, and saw the video. I don't agree with how that went down at all. I don't mind video in patrol cars. What I do mind is someone who wasn't there to look at they video, see something they think is wrong, and give officers a day off. Busy is nice but out is limited to what it shows. It doesn't show what the officers smells, hears, our sees inside a vehicle or out of the camera view.

Just what law yes bring broken on that list by the way? The running stop signs in a pursuit? That's allowed by a marked unit as long as due care is made to cross safely. My point is violating policy is entirely different than violating the law. Everybody was all for the teacher to have personal use marijuana at home but god forbid an officer speeds chasing a fleeing crook. And no, not the one who was on traffic and knows who the driver is. That's stupid in my opinion as well.

sunray's wench said...

Policies, rules, laws, call them what you want - bottom line is, the police must not themselves be above regulation if we are to have confidence in them upholding the laws for the rest of us.

It's less a case of nit-picking, and more a case of looking at the number of rules that exist, and seriously considering if all of them are needed. If it is decided that they are, and there is a legitimate need for them clearly explained and documented, and everyone is aware of them, then if the police themselves can't follow them there is something seriously wrong with the people in charge of the police.

Anonymous said...

If they shut off the mike, camera, GPS or fail to down load the video they should be given time off for the first offense and by the third time at least should be fired. Speeding in a chase should be evaluated on the circumstances. I think part of the problem was created by PD management deliberately handing out harsh discipline for even minor infractions just to torpedo the regulations snd the reviews. The poster who said the cops resent being held accountable to civilian authority is exactly right. I never was completely in favor of civilian review boards with authority to suspend but stuff like this makes me take a closer favorable look at it.

Miscellaneous Lawyer said...

That list has such a vast difference in seriousness; Fail to stop at stop signs during chases? Seriously? How can a police officer conduct a chase if they have to stop at every light?

On the other hand, failing to notify dispatchers of pursuits, no lights, moving GPS antennas; and ESPECIALLY deactivating video recorders are all serious breaches; not the least so because they have such a bad appearance. They smack of covering things up, rather than executing a duty.

Miscellaneous Lawyer said...

At anonymous 6.18... that is one of the most pithy comments on the law I have ever read. I approve.

"1) The laws, both wise and stupid, need to be followed.

2) The stupid and unnecessary policies need to be changed, not ignored."

Perhaps the most mature response I have seen in a while to what can, on the surface, seem dumb and idiotic laws.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:24 writes, "Everybody was all for the teacher to have personal use marijuana at home but god forbid an officer speeds chasing a fleeing crook."

I'm just noting "everybody" including you isn't consistent. The cops don't want to obey rules but think the teacher should have to. Pick your poision, what's good for the goose, etc. ... Besides, why have departmental policies if they're optional?

8:32's point is especially well taken about officer safety. The chase policy is there for a reason, and it's not to protect the runner.

@6:18, that's true as far as it goes, and yes, pithy, but oh so simplistic. There are many thousands of criminal laws, felony and misdemeanor, and many, many more agency rules with the force of law. Should they all be enforced equally, all the time? is that even possible? Stop people randomly on the street and 12-16% of them are committing crimes - it's as impossible and unrealistic to go after all of them as it is to go after every cop who speeds through a school zone. Discretion is inherently part of law enforcement decision making.

Also, sadly, we don't eliminate criminal laws on the books in Texas even when they're overturned by the Supreme Court (e.g., the sodomy ban). You tell us how to reverse the one-way ratchet and I'm all ears. Until then, "discretion" is critical as a practical matter because the state has criminalized so much petty behavior that nearly everybody breaks the law at some point, whether knowingly or not.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated to see the Houston cop above complain that a dash camera "doesn't show what the officers smells, hears, our sees inside a vehicle or out of the camera view"

That's my complaint on red-light cameras. Where were the cops making those arguments when THAT POS was put in?!! I just wish they cared about protecting my rights as much as their asses.

Anonymous said...

What some do not realize is that police acting within their scope of duty are not subject to most traffic laws as long as they exercise due care, essentially amounting to avoiding an accident if preventable. That means they can speed, run red lights or stop signs, and do all kinds of things that the average citizen cannot legally do. If a police agency has a specific policy regarding something, so be it but that is an administrative infraction and not a criminal matter.

In most of the listed cases, there were no laws broken even if some of the them were dumb in breaking the policy. There should be some care regarding assuming the intention of officers in a few of the cases though, the brass of police departments (the ones that haven't actually performed a police function in many years for the most part), are often quick to make up their minds about an officer's intentions and stick it to him rather than accept a rational reason why something was done.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:04 says, "police acting within their scope of duty are not subject to most traffic laws as long as they exercise due care"

We're talking about cases where the department reviewed the tape and decided they didn't exercise due care, but don't let the facts interfere with your opinion. Anyway, since state law obligates police officers to obey their departmental policies, you're splitting that hair mighty thin.

Again, to those assuming that stance, why have departmental policies on the books if cops think they should all be optional?

Phillip Baker said...

This is an ongoing discussion all over the state and nation. For me, any LEO who resents civilian oversight does not merit a badge. We have militarized the police (to our detriment), so contempt for civilian rule is exactly like soldiers who deride their civilian bosses- insubordinate and dangerous. In a nutshell I feel that if we- esp in Austin- pay these guys a lot of money for a job THEY chose to do (Nobody forced them to be police. I'm glad they are there, when they are actually protecting people and not just making rules for themselves), but for this kind of money the very least we can expect is good judgment and behavior. If high pay is not giving us the professional police we want, maybe we need to cut out expectations and cut their pay. I practiced medicine for earn a living. One of the biggest burdens, and rightly so, was the constant scrutiny, review, and feedback I had every single day, every patient. That is a big part of the stress of working in any complicated profession. These guys make more than I did! They should not get a pass on scrutiny nor evaluation of performance.

sunray's wench said...

Grits said: "Also, sadly, we don't eliminate criminal laws on the books in Texas even when they're overturned by the Supreme Court (e.g., the sodomy ban). You tell us how to reverse the one-way ratchet and I'm all ears."

Are you saying Texas

or can't?

Anonymous said...

Grits: "We're talking about cases where the department reviewed the tape and decided they didn't exercise due care, but don't let the facts interfere with your opinion."

You make that claim a lot yet the facts are police departments are not unified in how they believe certain things should be taken care of. Larger departments typically use such policy violations to bash someone they couldn't get on anything else, a few of them even tagging officers complained on for something major with this kind of thing as a "conduct not alleged" means of telling the complaining party that they investigated and found wrongdoing. They never explain to the complainant that the wrong doing was going 4 MPH over a speed limit when catching up to the lawbreaking complainant, nor do most of this policy infractions have very well defined parameters (which is why arbitrators and the courts overturn discipline so often).

What officers are sensitive about is the common perception that those on the command staff tend to offer up knee jerk reactions like discipline arbitrarily, a perception that has been proven time and again in the HCSO, HPD, DPD, and others in the state.

But hey, don't let facts get in the way of your opinions.

Anonymous said...

This points out how police unions are usurping civilian authority in law enforcement. Police offers should not be allowed to unionize.

Anonymous said...

TX DPS has 425 commissioned officer vacancies. Consider applying and making a difference.

Anne Roberts said...

Well, if they are chasing some drunk driver naturally they might go over the speed limit. But of course, in general, they should also abide with the laws and/or policies dictated by the state.

Anonymous said...

Texas Transportation Code 546.001 and subsequent sections state where law enforcement or authorized emergency vehicles can violate traffic laws as long as there is due regard for the safety of others.

Policy is often more restrictive and is there to further limit liability for the agency.

john said...

Here in Houston a couple years back, the local police were repeatedly filmed not registering either their personal autos OR the cop cars, etc.---or not inspecting or insuring or whatever. It was even on local expose news---which these days has largely disappeared. THE ONLY PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR THOSE VEHICLE LAWS ARE THE GOVERNMENT, AND THEY'RE THE MOST BLATANT IN IGNORING IT. I was accosted a couple years ago by the Sheriff's Dept. I wrote Public Info Request that finally go to the State gov so the local City Atty or someone had to answer. They named three cops, when there were five cars--some of which had more than two cops in them. I was not even mentioned in the sanitized "official" report. It's legion; they are juggernaut--AND THEY LEARNED IT FROM THE LEGISLATURE, like nearly all the crimes, here. At least the illegals are just copying their higher ups.
oh-oh, "captcha" calls, good luck!

john said...

Oh, wait, someone pointed out "policies, not laws." Excuse me, the policies and things like ordinances apply ONLY to the gov. Try and tell that to anyone in power. And you say no one would want that job? That's the excuse they use for illegals coming over here. So make THEM the cops? I mean, come on, what happened to: 1.>protect & serve, 2.>holding those in public office to a higher standard? But don't worry, as the good jobs are blocked and outsourced, more and more folks will be willing to do whatever gov jobs---at which point they'll join the politicians in fighting to preserve the status quo. This is the communitarian method/plan. Folks at the bottom will demand to be enslaved.
oh, oh, "captcha!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sunray's Wench, all of the above. Maybe that'll change, but so far that's been one of the toughest nuts to crack. Once a new crime gets on the books, they're almost impossible to get off, even if courts declare them null.

11:32, I agree that "police departments are not unified in how they believe certain things should be taken care of." But in this case we're talking about just one department - Dallas PD - so lack of consistency isn't a concern. Re-read the list of violations in the post. Nobody but YOU is talking about discipline for 4mph over the speed limit, and that's just a red herring.

Anonymous said...

People in law enforcement should be concerned about what seems to be a trend of hostility and anger both from and towards the police. It seems, these days, that many officers approach people with a hostile, authoritarian attitude, even where its not warranted. Of course many people also immediately display a hostile attitude towards the police. It may be a chicken/egg thing as to which comes first. I'm sure there is blame on both sides. It seems many cops have forgotten that they are "public servants" and instead seek to be "public masters." Now, this doesn't excuse the way some people behave towards them, but, its certainly something those in law enforcement should be concerned about. I know that several years ago officers were taught how to deescalte someone verbally. Now, it seems they are taught to do things that escalate the situation and then to pull the tazer out. Instead of, or at least in addition to, all the tactical training, officers really need training in people skills. A lot of use of force incidents could be avoided if officers simply knew how to talk to someone in a crisis situation. When officers behave towards the public as if they are the masters and the public must serve them, they should not be surprised when they are criticized the way they are by people who comment here and on other sites. When officers believe that, because they do such an important and difficult job, they should get a pass for violating the rules and laws, they should not be surprised when they are criticized. If officers don't like being held to a higher standard, they are free to pursue another career. The sense of "entitlement" that some officers who comment on here display is troubling. These are the officers who are mostly likely to abuse power because they feel the are above the rules (whether they be law or policy). If you choose to be a police officer, you accept the higher expectations that come with that office. Don't then turn around and complain that you should not be held accountable. You voluntarily took a job that places you in a position of public trust and confidence. If you don't like having to live up to that responsibility, go do something else. We'll all be better off if you do.

Anonymous said...

6:05 p.m.,

Awesome comment.

Joe Aragon said...

Police Officers have a difficult job. Like most difficult jobs, the standards by which they are gauged, are high. If you cannot meet those standards, than you have two options. You work to change those standards, or you adapt and work to meet those standards. You don't figure out a way to get around those standards, or scheme to escape accountability for violating those standards.

The taxpayers have paid for video and audio recordings. It aids officers in obtaining convictions, as it should. It is not up to the individual officer to decide what those videos or audio recordings should be used for.

Before I was an Attorney, I was a bartender. One of the bars I worked in had surveillance cameras. Those cameras recorded fights in the bar, and patrons that acted inappropriately. Those cameras also caught bartenders doing things they should not have been doing. I could never have imagined disabling one of those cameras and telling my boss that I was afraid of being scrutinized. That would have resulted in me being fired.

I don't care if there is an oversight committee that wants to document weather conditions from those police videos. It is not up to the individual officer/public servant to dictate how to use it. If Officers are being treated unfairly because of these videos/recordings, they should work to have the standards by which they are evaluated, changed.

jcfromnj said...

Well, folks then it's time to expand the "Citizen Video Camera" patrol.
It's not a crime to video record the cops, even in a third world county like Texas.
In the bizzaro world of the "cop mentality" not getting caught is the same as telling the truth.
This will only increase the need for civilian review, the just can't be trusted to monitor their own behavior.
"In a Police State, the policeman's job is easy"-Orson Wells

Anonymous said...

A few years back, an ambulance and a patrol car collided at an intersection resulting in at least two fatalities. Both were responding to the same night time accident. One or both drivers likely failed to follow safe practices.

Dashcam peer review sounds like a good way to promote safe practices.

Anonymous said...

McGregor PD told me that they had erased the videotape of the 'crime scene' at Amsler Park, where my son, Joshua, was found dead, telling me I wouldn't want to view it anyway. Also, they erased the 911 call for WHY?