Police departments have gone through scrutiny in recent years concerning the laws around the use of videos recorded during incidences they encounter on their duty. Recently I North Carolina a shooting occurred when parts of the incident were recorded by the cameras and other parts could not be seen as the camera could not capture from all angles on what was happening. A civilian who the police claimed to be in possession of a gun was shot as he was resisting arrest. The police did not release the footage of the incident, and therefore the public protested against the restrictions of the police department (Blau and Grinberg).
The protesters continued with the demands even after five days after the death of the individual who was shot. The police department finally gave in to the wishes of the public and released the footage shortly after footage from the cellphone of the deceased wife was aired. The citizens were acting by their right, but after the signing of the new law concerning release of future footages, the public will not have a chance to demonstrate as they were stripped of the opportunity by the new law. The governor during the signing said that the law was meant to balance the safety and rights of the officers and the trust of the public. The new law dictates that the video footages are not public and therefore the police department reserves the right to share the footage or not (Blau and Grinberg). This paper will try to look at the use of the in-car cameras by the police officers from a historical perspective.
Technology has been seen taking over the entire country with every activity having a technological touch in it over the past two decades. Security agencies have not been left behind in embracing the new technologies as they make their work easier and transparent. The technological advancement that has been seen in the security department includes easy access to National Crime Information Center, the state, and even local data through Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs). The officers can take reports, map crimes and even retrieve information efficiently through the use of Report Management Systems (RMS). The police officers on the ground are also able to license and warrant information within a very short time (Grady Baker et al. 4). The mentioned above are just a few or the advances that technology has brought in the security agencies within our country and all around the world. Effectiveness and efficiency are achieved through the technology. Other than that, some of the technology instills confidence in the citizens of the nation on the efficacy of the agencies. One of these tools policing and management is the camera in police cars. The cameras are often referred to as the in-car cameras.
The in-car cameras are the most widely used form of technology due to a wide range of reasons. The late 1990s saw many lawsuits filed against the police agencies like local police departments, Homeland securities and more. Most of the lawsuits were based on allegations of racial discriminations. There were accusations of race-based traffic stops by the highway patrol agencies in the entire United States. In most instances, the court ruled against the departments accepting that the racial profiling accusations. The court’s decision gave more strength to the public’s notion that police agencies are profiling on racial ground. The idea resulted in a lot of people losing faith and confidence in the work the police officers and related agencies do. Installing in-car cameras in the police force vehicles was the only solution for the department as very thing taking place in the field would be recorded by the cameras. The use of cameras was a proactive move that would help the agency executives stop biased policing and focus on restoring the public confidence (Westphal). The in-car cameras would provide honest accounts of the happenings that would be in question allowing the public to judge from what is recorded and not from a personal perspective.
History of in-car camera use
The first video system in America became available in early years of the 1960s. The videotape recording system was however too bulk. The Connecticut State Police Department during the 60s conducted the experiment to determine whether a video tape recorder could be used to record events in the field in a patrol car. The camera was on a tripod that occupied the whole passenger side next to the driver. The recorder and cables, on the other hand, took up the back seat and filled it. The experiment was fruitful as they were able to conclude that video recorders would be helpful in playing a crucial role in the patrol. However, due to the bulkiness of the equipment, it would be impractical to carry the videotape recorders everywhere (Grady Baker et al. 5).
A decade after the first experiment there were advancements in the field of audio and visual recordings. However, it is until the early 80s when the self-contained Beta visual and audio recorder was introduced. The recording system was an advancement that revolutionized the recording industry. The Beta audio/visual recording system was followed by the VHS tape and recorder which was also followed by an introduction of 8mm camcorders. The further the technology the minimal space the equipment would take and the more affordable it would be. The process became easy to record and the more it was used for the purpose of mainstream policing. The closed circuit devices were installed in lockup facilities where they would be applied in monitoring them. Security agencies began using the devices to record crime scenes which allowed for a more comprehensive investigation of a crime committed. The system was unlike the use of photographs that were in use at the time. The devices were portable unlike the early 1960s machine; they this equipment in officer’s operations for interrogations, surveillance, and training (Grady Baker et al. 5).
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was formed in 1980 which brought awareness to the public on the problems associated with drunk driving. A strong emphasis was put on convicting and punishing by the prosecutors during court arraignments. The police agencies installed cameras in vehicles which would record the whole session from the initial events leading to the police officer pull off the driver to the point of sobriety testing. The installation of the cameras proved to be a useful tool in providing undisputable evidence when one got convicted of drunk driving. The MADD saw the potential in utilizing the in-car cameras hence began buying the systems for police agencies. The equipment would be used to detect and apprehend drivers under the influence of alcohol and in violation of the laws that prohibit driving under the influence of alcohol (Grady Baker et al. 5).
For the years that followed from 1980, the fight against drugs in America heightened by the help of in-car cameras. The cameras would record each and every event which would be used as evidence against the offenders in the court. Hundreds of cases were closed with the help of these cameras which recorded evidence obtained when may be an offender was pulled over by the officers (Grady Baker et al. 5).
By 1999, those local police department that did not have the in-car cameras for their patrols started having to deal with issues related to racial policing. The people who were pulled over by the police officers would complain that it there was racial discrimination. The police state departments found themselves in the middle of controversies for racial profiling and at the same time there were increased attacks and assaults on the police officers in the field. The federal legislative bodies enacted laws that would require the cops to document details of each and every traffic stop due to concerns over the escalation of the negative events. The organizations responsible for the security of the country recognized the essence and the contribution of the in-car cameras. The purchase of this equipment was however very expensive and needed high capital investment which would be a burden for every police department to invest in. The COPS office, however, started an initiative by the name In-Car Camera Initiative Program for the highway patrol and the state police agencies throughout the entire United States. The first funds were delivered in the year 2000 (Grady Baker et al. 5).
A study conducted by the National Institute of Justice reported that only 11% of the highway and state police patrol vehicle were equipped with the in-car camera technology. However, over the three years that followed the COPS office gave over $21 million the security agencies to purchase the in-car cameras and install them. The number grew very first reaching up to 72% a shift of 61% (Westphal).
Today, almost all the police departments use the technology which has also spread to other countries worldwide. The advancement in technology has seen the reduction of the equipment that once filled the patrol car to as small as being transportable by hand.
Impacts of the use of in-car cameras
Police officers in the field were the individuals who benefited a great deal from this technology. The camera as it records everything provides security for the police officers from being attacked by people. Through the recording of the events, the work of the cop becomes easy when it comes to making reports of the day’s activities. The installation of these cameras in the patrol vehicles has enabled the police department to win back the trust from the public that had been lost due to issues relating to racial profiling ("5 Awesome Benefits Of In-Car Camera Systems").
Although the above has been achieved, some matters need to be looked into as far as the laws are concerned. It has been seen that the technology today has no limit, therefore, the need for technical personnel to develop better cameras that help capture everything happening around the patrol vehicle hence eliminating blind spots in the future.
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