Cameras: Useful for cops too

A recent article in the Connecticut Post makes the important point that cameras can be useful for police officers too. If police document their actions with video- and audio-recording devices, their court cases are much stronger when they are acting properly. Furthermore, recordings can be used to vindicate officers who are wrongly accused of misconduct.

For police agencies, cameras that record officer encounters with the public can help prove suspects are guilty and set the record straight if officers are wrongly accused of misconduct.

“It tells you the facts,” Post Falls police Capt. Pat Knight said. “It keeps us out of trouble.”

Over the years, law enforcement officials in Spokane County have largely dismissed cameras as not worth the cost. But as agencies deal with high-profile cases of alleged misconduct, the cameras are getting a new look.

Spokane police Ombudsman Tim Burns recommended in his annual report to City Council earlier this month that cameras be installed in police cars to provide definitive evidence in cases that otherwise would be mostly the officer’s word against the accuser’s.

“We need to find the money, and we need to make it a priority,” Burns said. “Why would we want to wait any longer?”

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has requested money the past two years from county commissioners to outfit patrol cars with cameras. He said he believes cameras in most cases would help vindicate deputies accused of violating suspects’ rights. Currently, only a Sheriff’s Office patrol car that enforces overload-truck laws is outfitted with a camera.

“It has great potential to eliminate lawsuits that are filed falsely,” Knezovich said.

Breean Beggs, a civil rights attorney and former director of Spokane’s Center for Justice, said as long as departments use video consistently it would help keep officers more accountable and could cut departments’ legal bills.

“My sense is it would save a lot of money on civil rights claims,” Beggs said.

That’s because, he said, if a video indicated a claim was legitimate, a department would more likely settle the case quickly instead of spending resources fighting it. If a video indicated a claim was false, it would be dropped sooner or never filed.

“When there’s video evidence, that tends to help vindicate civil rights,” Beggs said.

“Law enforcement seeking more cameras” (Mar. 21st, 2011), CTPost.com

Of course, regardless of how many cameras your local police use, you should never stop documenting their actions with your own personal cameras. Police videos have a bad habit of going missing when they show officers committing crimes or otherwise engaging in misconduct, so it’s important for individuals not affiliated with the police to document police encounters as well.

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