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There`s Something about Cop Cars

The increasing demands on law enforcement mandate that we consider every possible means of leveraging our manpower and our technology. Digital in-car video systems make it possible to put more ‘eyes’ on the streets, while providing added protection for our men and women in uniform.

By Louis Anemone

 

 

Digital in-car video recording systems installed in police vehicles can improve police performance.  (Photo by ICOP Digital, Inc.) 

 

Police performance in America is about to dramatically improve as a result of the latest developments in digital camera technology installed in police vehicles.  I see a number of immediate personal benefits to the officer, including increased physical safety and security, improved training, and reduced civilian complaints.

I see a number of benefits to the community, including less crime and increased security for the public at large; improved confidence in local police professionalism; fiscal savings on fewer adverse court judgments or settlements in liability cases.

I see a number of benefits for the police chief and the department, including improving officer safety and security; gaining improved compliance with department risk management policies; improving officer field training, both for recruits and tenured officers; reducing liability costs to the municipality or community; gaining better conviction rates; and finally, improving police community relations while gaining increased public support and confidence in the department.

 

GOING DIGITAL

 

First a few words about the state of in-car video systems and the technology currently used as opposed to that now available in full-VGA digital.  Although 40% of the nation’s police cars are using some form of in-car video, only a small percentage is using digital (law enforcement is currently converting from analog [VHS] to digital).  Digital is preferred method, state of the art for the following reasons: Digital delivers high quality images (especially when recorded in full-VGA).  Digital enhances the security and integrity of video, automating chain of custody procedures.  Many in-car video products offer tamperproof evidence, made possible with digital technology, thereby assuring that your evidence will stand up in court.  Digital enables efficient searching, viewing, disseminating, and copying of any video file (with no loss of quality).  ‘Pre-event’ is a feature which captures video (and audio) of events prior to the ‘record’ mode being activated.  The back-end system of a digital video system is the powerhouse of the solution, which is used to file, categorize, search, retrieve, archive, and copy the video files.   Some systems are also capable of entering the event information in the vehicle, which simplifies the officer’s report process, and enables efficient searches of the video files, and the creation of instant reports on the backend once downloaded to a server.

 

WORK HARD, WORK SMART, WORK SAFELY

 

From an officer’s perspective, I couldn’t think of a more useful tool since the police portable radio.  Officers will now have an incontrovertible video and audio record of motorist actions and statements both prior to, and during the car stop.  All that needs to be done is to turn the unit on during traffic enforcement duty and let it record the motorist actions and during the officer’s interactions at the driver’s window, the unit will record all conversations between the motorist and the officer (‘triggers’ such as activation of the siren or lights can automatically cause the unit to begin recording).  Suddenly not only a better conviction rate in traffic court, when the motorist views the video of his actions prior to the car stop, but a defense against false charges of abuse of authority or discourtesy by the officer is available because anything the officer says will be captured by the wireless microphone and transmitted back to the unit’s hard drive.  According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) report “The Impact of Video Evidence on Modern Policing”  the data revealed that in cases where video evidence was available, the officer was exonerated 93% of the time.

This device also has the capability of changing motorist behavior.  If the presence of these units in police vehicles is publicized (as it should be) there will be a dramatic drop in the number of civilian complaints lodged against officers.  Once the public realizes that they can be prosecuted for filing false charges, and that the video can provide the proof that is necessary to get that conviction, not only will compliance with traffic rules and regulations improve, but so will the filing of false charges against the police.

The most important benefit to the officers’ themselves, again after maximizing the presence and use of these units in police vehicles is the deterrent effect on those who when stopped by the police may harbor thoughts about attacking the officer.  Car stops are arguably the most dangerous part of police work, or at least the most disconcerting part to the officer.  He or she must approach a vehicle with an unknown operator or passenger(s), many times at night, with reduced visibility and hope that the occupants aren’t intent on attacking the officer.  Ninety-five percent of these car stops occur without attacks, but the potential is always there for a tragic event to occur.  The public knowledge that all car stops will be captured on video that will assist in identifying anyone intent on attacking a police officer, will go a long way in reducing those types of attacks.  Even the bad guys won’t appreciate those odds.

I believe the deterrent effect of these units has been underestimated, and I am suggesting widely publicizing the use of these units by the police.  Local television stations are often eager to show and tell the use of in-car video by the local police, especially when they understand the deterrent effect of making this information known to the public.

Some units are available with cameras that can view the rear approach to the officer’s vehicle.  I can think of a number of NYPD officers who might be alive today if that system had been available in the past.  An officer is certainly most exposed and vulnerable during his approach and presence at the driver’s window during a car stop.  A second window of vulnerability occurs during nighttime in a stopped police vehicle, in an urban area.  If the officer is engaged in paperwork of some kind, with the dome light on or off, he or she is a vulnerable target for someone approaching from the rear of the vehicle.  A system that shows the rear view of the digital camera can provide the extra level of protection and comfort that each officer deserves when they are out on patrol.

Gone are the days of someone approaching the officer and rapping on the window and the officer near jumping out of his skin with shock!!!

I can anticipate the formation of a ‘club’ for officers (similar to one for officers saved by a vest) who have survived an attack because of the presence of their department’s in-car digital video system.

 

GAINING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE AND SUPPORT

 

Benefits to the community include: a reduction in crime and increased safety and security for the public.  Proper use of these units, coupled with proper publicity about the installation and use of these units in all department vehicles will firstly have a deterrent effect on the criminal subset of the community.  Not only do they have to worry about fixed public camera locations capturing their activities, they now must be concerned about police vehicles (occupied and unoccupied) capturing their activities on the streets.  No longer will it be their word against the police officer’s about how the arrest occurred, in many cases incontrovertible evidence in the form of the digital video, in full VGA, frame-by-frame evidence (if the unit’s compression format allows this), will be available in court.  As the criminal element becomes more uncomfortable with their own presence on the streets, the general public will become more relaxed and confident that their streets can be used at all times of the day and night without undue fear.  The use of these digital videos in court will go a long way to addressing the ‘CSI effect’ that many police and prosecutors have seen during jury trials.  Video evidence is expected in court today.  Increasingly, juries want physical evidence over and above an officer’s testimony.  In-car digital video can provide that evidence in many cases.

Another benefit for the community is a hoped-for rise in the level of confidence and support for the police once the community realizes that police work, in the form of car stops at least, is becoming more open and exposed to the review of department officials and public critics.  Sunshine is the best disinfectant.  Videos of police during car stops should be made available for viewing by those in the public who doubt the department’s commitment to fair and just policing.  Videos could be reviewed randomly, by district or precinct, by officer, by date, etc.  Public critics will come to believe that they in fact are not being unfairly singled out by prejudiced or brutal officers.  I think the value of opening the department up to public scrutiny like this can dramatically improve police community relations and increase public confidence and support for the police like nothing else a department can attempt.  The added beauty of this is that this benefit is a by-product of the use of the in-car digital system.

The third benefit I have identified for the community involves reducing liability judgments and settlements.  This is a huge cost to jurisdictions throughout the country.  In New York for instance the annual cost, for judgments and settlements against the City runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Many of these settlements are reached because the City or the Department doesn’t have enough physical evidence to litigate successfully in court.  The presence of in-car digital video records of car stops, police street corner encounters, etc., can provide some of the missing evidence needed to successfully defend against many of these nuisance lawsuits.  The savings nationwide could certainly be put to better use in any city or municipality where the costs of liability insurance or judgments can upset the best planned budgets.  These benefits should be easily recognizable after a 2-3 years of use by the police, (due to the lag in time it takes to settle cases).

 

INSIDE AND OUTSIDE DETERRENT

 

From a police chief’s perspective, all of the above benefits are useful to the department.  The added benefits of officer safety, increased public confidence and support, reduced liability judgments, etc. clearly are beneficial to the chief and/or the department as well.

Additional benefits that the chief should be cognizant of include: Replacing random patrol, which generates random results, with focused and directed patrol, which can generate desired positive results.  An example or two will more fully explain the idea.  The assignment of officers to accident-prone locations at times and on days of the week when statistics indicate most dangerous accidents occur is something that is more often than not left to the shift supervisor to address.  Shift supervisors will sometimes filter and distort the chief’s order so that citations are written all over the district with little or no effect on reducing injury and fatality accidents at specific locations.  Current technology available in digital in-car video will allow for the easy retrieval and review of video records or reports generated by the video system to ascertain where and when citations are issued (not all digital video systems are capable of searching files or of creating instant reports).  The benefits to the department are obvious.  Motorist behavior in the community can be positively impacted by the proper deployment and use of these systems.  Less injuries and fatalities can be achieved.

The second example of directed and focused patrol that is enhanced by the use of in-car digital video systems involves surveillance of crime prone locations in the community by officers equipped with these systems installed in their vehicles.  As the chief or district commander orders police to directed patrol at certain locations that may be drug prone or violence prone for example, a video record of conditions at those locations can be created.  These videos can provide leads to detectives investigating subsequent criminal activity at those locations.   What vehicles were present?  Who was present?  Who were they talking to? etc., etc.  Again, let us not forget the deterrent effect of these digital records.  The chief will also have a reviewable record of the actions he and his officers have taken at crime hot spots or other locations that the community is complaining about.

The other two benefits to the chief or the department involve training and compliance.  Recruit training can be dramatically improved, and a record of each recruit’s on street performance during car stops, for example, can be created.  Each recruit can immediately review with his/her training officer, the results of each car stop he or she conducts.  The approach, the conversation, the ticket writing, etc., can all be reviewed for instant feedback for improvement.  This same system can be used by each and every officer, recruit or veteran, to critique his/her own performance.  Supervisors will also have the capability to review each officer’s performance to gain a better understanding of the type of training that may be needed.

Every department utilizing these systems should see an improvement in gaining compliance with department policies, procedures and risk management activities.  The corollary of the deterrent effect of the system on suspect behaviors is that it will have a deterrent effect on high risk, non-compliant officer behavior.  Suddenly, with a digital video available of each and every vehicle pursuit, officers will be extremely cautious to obey department directives.  The same beneficial effect should accrue to use of force incidents and car stop interactions.  All that is needed is a system of supervisory review of videos of high risk activities, to ensure that members are complying with risk reduction and risk management directives.  Training deficiencies or supervisory lapses can be corrected and general behavior will improve.

The video can be utilized to curtail some duplicative administrative reports by officers.  Start of shift inspections of the interior, trunk, gas and oil levels, etc. can now be done verbally by the officer on the video.  Similarly, end of shift inspections can now be done verbally by the officer, using video and audio.  He/she is able confirm such things as the fact that no contraband was left in the vehicle. Reports of citations issued can now be referenced on the video itself by the officer, thereby saving time and effort.

 

 

The increasing demands on law enforcement mandate that we consider every possible means of leveraging our manpower and our technology.  Digital in-car video systems make it possible to put more ‘eyes’ on the streets, while providing added protection for our men and women in uniform.

 

Louis Anemone, Chief of Department, N.Y.P.D. (retired), is a 35 year veteran of the New York Police Department.  He serves on the Board of Advisors of ICOP Digital, Inc. (www.icop.com), one of the leading surveillance technology companies.

 

 

For more information, please send your e-mails to swm@infothe.com.

2007 www.SecurityWorldMag.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

 
 

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