When Police Videos Go Missing

Posted: August 13th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

by The Agitator

When I interviewed him for my column this week, Fraternal Order of Policy Executive Director Jim Pasco differentiated citizen-shot video from police dash cam and surveillance video this way:

How do you know the video hasn’t been edited? How do we know what’s in the video hasn’t been taken out of context? With dashboard cameras or police security video, the evidence is in the hands of law enforcement the entire time, so it’s admissible under the rules of evidence. That’s not the case with these cell phone videos.

Pasco may be right about the potential for citizen-shot video to be edited, though from what I understand that’s pretty easy to detect. The problem with Pasco’s statement is that there are too many stories where dash cam and surveillance camera video has gone missing, particularly in cases where there’s alleged police misconduct.

Repeatedly, we are asked to review records of DWI stops during which there is no audio or video record of the event. Why do I believe there should be audio or audio and video record of the DWI stops? Because the law requires, and did so at the time of this stop, either an audio or audio and video record or the filing of a racial profiling report for each stop. See Tex Code Crim. Proc. art. 2.133-.135. The City of Fort Worth has conscientiously provided the means for complying with this law.

An appellate court should give no weight to testimony that is disproved by the objective record of the actual events. And I believe that the majority should address the issue of an officer’s intentionally disabling the audio recorder and testifying directly contrary to the audio record. …

At some point, courts must address the repeated failure of officers to use the recording equipment and their repeated inability to remember whether the car they were driving on patrol or to a DWI stop contained the video equipment the City of Fort Worth has been paying for. If the law requires recording to qualify for the exception to filing racial profiling reports, then is the officer not obligated to make sure that there is tape in a traditional video camera or that a digital camera is activated? When the actual recording conflicts with the officer’s testimony, the defendant’s testimony, or another witness’s testimony, a court cannot pretend that the emperor is wearing new clothes just because someone testifies that he is.

It’s commendable that more and more police departments are using dash cameras. I’m less enthusiastic about the increasing government surveillance of public spaces. But neither is a compelling reason to prevent citizens from protecting themselves by making their own recordings of their interactions with on-duty police officers.


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