While some agencies are still trying to decide whether or not to install in-car recorders, technology has moved on dramatically with personal digital recording units increasingly available for officers.
Law Enforcement being behind the curve on new technology is not a new phenomenon. For example, the Mauser semi-automatic “broom handle” C 96 pistol was introduced in 1896 and some law enforcement agencies were still transitioning from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols 100 years later. Departments considering the introduction of personal video recorders will commonly ask two questions:
1.) Where does the money come from?
2.) Will recorders harm us or help us?
Where Does the Money Come From?
In a time when budgets are being cut with chain saws rather than scalpels, one has to ask the question, “Where does the money come from to purchase digital recorders?”
Let me answer the question first with one word. “Donations.”
If there are absolutely no grants or budget money for this new equipment item, you will find communities are open to donating money to a good cause even in these hard times. They have funded K-9 programs, Mounted Programs, Boat Patrols, Rescue Units, Personal Body Armor, DARE and GREAT.
In La Crosse, Wisconsin, when the community discovered a police station on the north-side of its city was to be demolished because of its dilapidated condition and there was no money to build a new one, they rallied. The community raised money enough to replace the old structure with a new state-of-the art police station without using a single tax dollar.
You may be surprised how open some community groups would be to operate a fund raiser to place digital recording units on your officers. Many departments received their first in-squad videos from (MAAD) Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
One Actual Citizen Complaint
There was a Sergeant once who took a complaint against a patrol officer at the front desk of the police department. A citizen complained that he had just received a citation from an officer and the officer was rude. The citizen demanded that the officer be called upon to answer for his behavior and the complainant insisted on being informed of the adjudication of his complaint.
The indignant man stormed out of the station, assuring the Sergeant that he was an important man and possessed many important friends.
The first thing the Sergeant did was check the recording of the stop. The facts were made clear instantly, from first contact to release, that there was indeed rudeness. It was blatant, obvious, deliberately antagonizing and unnecessary.
The Sergeant shook his head and immediately wrote the officer up for his actions during the stop without so much as a “What happened here?”
The Sergeant called the officer into the station and issued the “Field Notice” to the officer, while placing a copy in the permanent file of the officer. The officer did not argue with the decision of the Sergeant and returned quietly to patrol.
The Sergeant called the complainant and informed him of the action taken. The Sergeant said, “I am glad you brought this to my attention. It is something we sometimes overlook. It was disappointing to watch the way you spoke to my officer, belittling, antagonizing and insulting this officer.
“On the other hand I was proud to witness how my officer did not return your demeaning behavior in kind and instead he remained calm and professional, while doing exactly what he was paid to do in spite of your provocations.
“As a result of your complaint, since you have demanded appropriate action I have issued the officer a Field Notice for his professional behavior in the face of great adversity. If you would like you can come down and view the recording. “
After a long silence, the voice on the phone said, “That won’t be necessary... uh, goodbye.”
This was an actual incident.
Will They Harm or Help Us?
When asking, “Will body recorders help or hinder officers?” the answer is almost invariably “yes” to both questions.
If you have officers who operate in the realm of the unprofessional, or lose control of themselves, their shortcomings will be revealed. The flip side of that is this type of behavior may be curbed due to the presence of the recorder.
The fact is officers are saved more by recordings than harmed.
Recorders are the best friend of a professional police officer, because they are like having a professional witness ride-along. Although this witness is not in a position to always see or hear everything that happens, what they do see and hear they will never forget. When the case comes to civil or criminal trial weeks, months, or even years later they will always be available and willingly to testify to the facts... impartially.
When American Police Officers testify in court, they have always had the truth on their side. Now with the advent of digital recorders, officers can be comfortable in knowing the truth has a backup.