In recent months there has been a considerable increase in debate as to the role that body cameras should play in documenting the manner in which criminal suspects are arrested nationwide. As outrage has been generated in the wake of several high profile incidents questioning the credibility of officer testimony, conventional wisdom has been that issuing body cameras to all sworn police officers and mandating that these cameras be worn, will be one productive step towards deterring wrongful police conduct in the future.
In my experience in investigating and ultimately holding police officers accountable for their actions during the course of an arrest within a criminal courtroom, I believe that any objective criteria with which to assess the performance of police officers in the performance of their duties to be a positive.
Yet, it is also my assessment that though potentially worthwhile in certain instances, within the context of dui arrests body cam videos will not be the final arbiter in discrediting police misconduct within respective cases to unilaterally allow for case dismissals.
Analogous to the expansion of in car video within patrol cars throughout select jurisdictions in Indiana, the use of body cams will offer little to the needed cross examination of officers in regard to certain sobriety evidence such as gaze nystagmus testimony, on scene pronouncements based upon smell and sight, nor corresponding breath and/or blood draw results.
While body cams may provide a better vantage point with which to scrutinize the true performance of select field sobriety test performance, far too much subjectivity and variables exist within the context of a dui arrest for traffic cops to be hampered from their conduct by the presence of such cameras.
However, where such video recordings would without doubt aid my efforts as a defense attorney is in the perpetual analysis as to whether implied consent recitations were properly recited to test subjects such to justify a finding of refusal to perform breath tests for intoxication.
It is here where cops previously inclined to haphazardly take the time to explain the circumstances of refusing to submit to a breath test may be far more inclined to take adequate precautions to make sure that all lawful communication has been documented on video. In this regard, the driving public would best be served in insuring that they have been truly and accurately advised as to the consequences to their drivers license if they fail to comply with a lawful breath test request for suspected intoxication.
No longer would defendants, lawyers and judges alike be compelled to give mere deference to the sworn assertions of police officials within a court of law as to implied consent recitals; recitals that can otherwise prompt an Indiana drivers license to be suspended for as much as two years irrespective of the outcome of a dui prosecution.
For other more violent types of crimes, the ultimate question in a cost benefit analysis will be whether issuing and paying the enormous taxpayer expense for body cameras will sufficiently deter police misconduct.
Conversely, will their issuance actually prove counterproductive to public safety in significantly hampering the ability of law abiding police officers to perform effectively.
One must always remember that the vast majority of police officers both within Indiana and nationwide are honorable and decent individuals doing their best to uphold the law. To such members of law enforcement the specter of a body camera affixed to their person is not objectionable due to a fear of exposing purposeful and willful misconduct.
However, many legitimate concerns touch upon whether such ever present recordings of their every action may cause good cops to second guess their actions; hesitation that could otherwise stop the commission of a crime or result in the difference between the life or death of a good officer or innocent civilian.
Therefore, in an age where social media and competing television broadcasts clamor to expose police misconduct, will such affixed body videos actually cause good cops to muzzle pro active police action in aggressively attempting to deter violent crime? Will the notion that every action they take be analyzed after the fact cause police to sit in their cars or merely do as little as possible each week toward collecting taxpayer paychecks?
I believe that there is merit to such concerns as no individuals in an otherwise free society wish to have each and every action that they take in the performance of their jobs be later questioned through video analysis.
Unfortunately, it is the small minority of police, emboldened by power and the presumption that their sworn word will be backed up by judicial officers as well as supervising police authorities that have grown to become a pervasive problem to the reputation of good officers.
To address the failings of such sworn officers defense attorneys nationwide have been the last line of defense in cross examining improper police conduct and exposing such misconduct within public courts of law.
In so doing, bad or negligent police officials would be rooted out by not guilty verdicts or case dismissals imposed on behalf of a disproportionate numbers of criminal suspects that such cops have cause to be improperly arrested.
Generally speaking, such legal deterrence has served our country well throughout our history. Yet, to many members of various communities throughout our nation, ineffective judicial action has cast doubt that the legal system will hold bad police actors accountable for misconduct.
County jurisdictions in all states that have either tolerated or been unwilling or unable to punish questionable police practices have been a perpetual reminder that blind reliance on courtroom outcomes can be fraught with peril.
Social media has now frequently filled the void to report and broadcast police misconduct that has now been able to document activity that has too often resulted in the wrongful death or arrest of innocent individuals.
As more and more such broadcasts have been disseminated the public at large has quite justifiably grown agitated at the continued evidence of police misconduct served up for public consumption; misconduct that has begun to erode confidence in the criminal justice system itself.
To many formerly effected by improper police activity, an unwavering confidence in our police officials has been lost many years ago. Yet, more alarmingly, an increasing number of independent minded individuals, not even those personally affected or knowing someone personally affected by police misconduct have now begun to join the ranks of those prone to cast aspersions on police activity.
As a result, police action nationwide is at risk of being judged as guilty until proven innocent. The question therefore is what to do in order to constructively reverse this concerning trend of public opinion; opinion that carries the risk of hampering good police officers ability and/or willingness to put their respective lives on the line in the performance of their public safety responsibilities.
As such, we must all collectively determine how to best support lawful and effective police conduct while at the same time be in position to utilize up to date technologies to most effectively hold bad cops responsible for their misdeeds.
While the prospect of issuing body cameras to all police officers makes society feel good and provides politicians verbal speech lines to sway voters, the electorate as a whole must give careful consideration to the real payoff achieved in return for the monumental taxpayer funding that will be necessary to support such initiatives.
Only once politicians and voters have been willing to cross that financial threshold will the experiment of police body cams be initiated on an expansive enough scale to determine whether their role in potentially deterring police misconduct has merit. It is then that the general public will better be in position to determine whether such initiatives as required body cams have proven counterproductive to public safety in hampering good cops at the monumental expense of the few.