In the wake of the recent events surrounding Michael Brown’s death, Eric Garner’s death, and other similar incidences raising concerns of excessive force by law enforcement, many police agencies are considering and some actually using body mounted cameras.
In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that, following the use of body-mounted cameras on police in Rialto, California, use of force by police declined by 60 percent and citizen complaints about the police fell 88 percent.
In addition to reducing instances of excessive force by police, how else might body cameras affect criminal investigations? More specifically, how might they affect DUI investigations?
Well, let me ask you this: How valuable might it be to a DUI investigation to see exactly what the officer saw when they arrested a DUI suspect rather than merely relying on a police report?
Unfortunately, officers write their police reports hours after the arrest took place. By the time the officer actually sits down to write their report, memory fades, opinions replace fact, and the decision fabricate in order to justify an arrest is sometimes made.
In my practice as a DUI defense attorney, I cannot remember a DUI police report that didn’t allege that the suspect “had bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, and emitted the distinct odor of alcohol.” This was true even in cases when it was later determined that my client was, in fact, not under the influence. While these clients were eventually cleared of driving drunk, the unverified police report led to DUI charges.
Currently, many law enforcement agencies use dashboard mounted camera videos which can capture the DUI stop. They cannot, however, capture whether the officer actually observed bloodshot watery eyes or slurred speech. A body camera would serve to provide the first-hand evidence to justify the allegations made in a police report written hours after the incident occurred. If the officer alleges that a suspect’s eyes are bloodshot or that they have slurred speech in a police report, the footage from a body camera can ensure that those allegations are, in fact, true.
You may remember my previous complaints about law enforcement taking DUI suspects out of the view of the dash-cam to conduct field sobriety tests. In their police report, officers claim that suspects “fail” the field sobriety tests without an explanation as to how the suspect “failed.” As was the case with the supposed bloodshot watery eyes and slurred speech, people are often cleared of DUI charges notwithstanding a police report alleging that they “failed” field sobriety tests. Footage from body cameras can confirm whether the suspect actually “failed” the field sobriety test, thus confirming credibility of the police report or exposing its flaws.
Opponents of body cameras argue that, in addition to being an “encumbrance,” the cost of equipping every officer with a body camera and the cost of storing and managing such a voluminous amount of data outweighs any benefit the footage might provide.
Fortunately, the argument that body cameras are too costly is losing merit with price of technology and cloud-based storage systems dropping precipitously. Ultimately, when a criminal conviction (…and the punishment associated with such a conviction) is on the line, there should not be a price too large to ensure the accuracy and integrity of a criminal investigation.
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