In-car video systems like Panasonic's Toughbook® Arbitrator™, have long proven to be crime-busters, but there's a caveat: officers need to know how to use and care for them. Mistakes can range from forgetting to turn the equipment on to ensuring there's enough light to clearly illuminate the subjects being recorded.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) say a minimum of four hours of training in the use and care of A/V equipment is preferable, but even that may not be enough. Here are 20 tips for officers to more effectively use in-car video systems (Supplied by the IACP and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS):
Upkeep: In-car video equipment and its upkeep are the responsibility of the officer who is using it. Officers should familiarize themselves with the manufacturer's suggested guidelines.
Pre-shift checkup: Officers should perform a pre-operational inspection to ensure their equipment is performing. Any problems should be promptly reported to supervisors.
Placement: Officers must mount the camera in a position that minimizes obstruction of the driver's windshield view, but still captures a clear view of the vehicle in front of the patrol car, including the occupants and the license plate.
Angle: Officers should strive to get the best camera angle possible, but not at the expense of their safety. If camera placement in any way puts an officer in danger, it should not be used. Safety comes first.
Lighting: Test the system's ability to recover a license plate image at night when high beams, spotlights and emergency lights are reflected off the rear of the suspect's vehicle. Recommended: a field of view 16 feet wide at a distance of 20 feet from the camera.
Monitor placement: The location of the monitor should be carefully considered for ease of use, visibility and safety, and may vary depending on the type of vehicle being used.
Avoid unexpected surveillance: If a suspect is in the vehicle while another is being interviewed outside the car, it's advisable to turn off the audio playback so the suspect in your unit can't hear the conversation.
Notification: Officers using in-car videos for traffic stops and other public contacts should notify subjects that events are being recorded. This notification, of course, does not apply for crimes in progress where such notification is impossible.
A and V: Be sure both video and audio capabilities are activated (see #10). Officers are encouraged to use the audio portion of the recording to narrate events as they occur to help provide more thorough courtroom evidence.
Avoid noise disturbance: To prevent bleed over and/or noise from other cameras, only the primary officers initiating the contact should activate audio. Officers responding in a support capacity should leave their audio transmitters off, but activate their video for additional scene perspective.
Support your report: Review the recordings when preparing your written report to help ensure accuracy and consistency.
Preparing for court: Likewise, while video is valuable as evidence in court, it can also help officers refresh their memories of the events prior to testifying.
Keep it pure: Officers should never erase, alter, reuse, modify or tamper with recordings. Only a supervisor or a trained technician may erase and reissue a previously recorded media.
Viewing: To prevent damage to the original recorded media, it should be replayed only through the original equipment.
Keep it on to conclusion: Once A/V is activated, it should not be deactivated until the event is concluded. Extended events, like accident scene investigatons, are the exception. When the tape has to be shut off, the officer should document the reason for stopping the tape, either by orally noting the intention into his microphone or by written notation in his notes.
Labeling evidence: If the media being surrendered contains evidence needed for prosecution, notify the supervisor that it should be marked and handled as such.
Remember to reload: When remaining recording time is less than one hour for long playing media lasting 6-8 hours or 30 minutes for recordings of five hours, replace the tape.
Restrict removal: In general, videotapes should only be removed when they're ready for storage. Removing then reinserting a tape runs the risk of accidental override.
Seize the training opportunity: Don't overlook the opportunities to use the in-car videos for further training. New officers can review their recorded actions immediately after an event occurs under the eye of their trainer. Officers should keep in mind, too, that recordings from the field that depict either positive or negative police behavior are a real asset to the training department of any agency. Care should be taken, however, to present the material in a way that will not embarrass an officer or undermine morale.