Police Reform (4/10): “More Body Cams”

Body worn cameras aid the police and protect the publicEvery patrol officer should be required to wear a body cam while on duty.

In most cases, the video corroborates the officer and incriminates the defendant.  The body cam can also record and deter police misconduct. 

Ultimately, body cams keep everybody honest.  “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Every experienced prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and judge advocate the use of body camera.

Benefits of police body cams

There a many advantages of police body cams.

  • Increased public confidence in, and support for, law enforcement
  • Reduction in the number of allegations made against police officers
  • Prevent miscarriages of justice
  • Reduced court costs due to an increase in early guilty pleas
  • De-escalation of anti-social behavior
  • A reduction in the number of assaults on police officers
  • Officer training enhancement through the review of performance at incidents
  • Reduction in officer time spent on paperwork
  • Aid officers in writing accurate and detailed police reports
  • Correct public misperceptions and prevent violent protests
  • Overcome the “rush to judgment”

Body cams inspire early guilty pleas

I have had several cases where the defense attorney recommended that his client plead guilty, instead of going to trial, but defendant refused.  The defendant was adamant that he was “innocent.”

Before spending days in trial at a huge cost to the taxpayers, I asked the D.A. and defense attorney to show the recording from the body cam to the defendant. Invariably, the defendant suddenly “remembered” that he committed the crime, and it was caught on tape. 

Potential for officer tampering

I had a case where an enraged, out-of-control, officer slammed a juvenile suspect onto  the hood of the police car.  Then, the officer pummeled him. 

The officer had momentarily forgotten that the car camera was recording the incident.  Later, the officer went to the evidence room and signed out the recording.  He explained that he needed the recording for evidence in a jury trial.

Fortunately, the property officer had backed-up the tape.  When the recording was returned, it had been erased. The officer was prosecuted for evidence tampering

Any body cam system must be tamper proof. Moreover, body cams must run the entire time the officer is on patrol. Cameras should not be able to turn off at “inconvenient” times.

Body cam expense

Of course, police body cams are expensive.  They are expensive to purchase and maintain.  The recordings are evidence, and additional personnel and expenditures are needed to catalog, maintain, secure, and distribute the recordings. Extra expenditures are needed to assure that the body cams and recordings are tamper proof. 

We need more body cams, and the taxpayers should be willing to bear these costs. Although 89% of Americans believe body cams should be required, only 51% say they are willing to increases taxes, if necessary, to pay for them. Congress could create federal grants so that underfunded police departments can afford body cameras.   

George Floyd Killing: Body Cams Incriminate Officers

In May 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, was killed in Minneapolis during an arrest.

Officer Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down,  Floyd was begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” (Note: Floyd was complained he couldn’t breathe even before he was forced to the ground.”

Floyd George Killing

Three other officers further restrained Floyd, and prevented bystanders from intervening. 

One officer asked multiple times whether they should roll Floyd onto his side, but  Chauvin said “just leave him.” The other officer then checked Floyd’s pulse, and said he “can’t find one.”

About 8 minutes after the officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck, an EMT arrived and the Officer Chauvin removed his knee. By then, Floyd was already dead. They could not revive him. 

The death sparked demonstrations and riots throughout the country, resulting in deaths, injuries, and billions of dollars in property damage.

Two police body cams recorded the incident and gave a more complete picture.  After reviewing the body cam recordings, the district attorney charged Officer Chauvin with murder.  Three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder. Without the body cams, the police might not have been brought to justice.

Later, additional body cameras gave an even more complete account of what transpired before Floyd was placed on the ground. This might mitigate the culpability of some of the officers. Also, the autopsy discovered that, while oxygen deprivation was the primary cause of death, George Floyd also had a lethal amount of fentanyl in his system.

In any event, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Body cams can be crucial in our pursuit of truth.

Bernardo Palacios Carbajal Killing: Body Cams Exonerate Officers

In June 2020, two Salt Lake officers shot and killed Bernardo Palacios. Officers fired over thirty bullets, half striking Palacios. In a rush to judgment, family and local residents accused the police of murderProtests and riots followed.  

Both officers were wearing body cams and the event was recorded. After reviewing the body cams, the citizen review board exonerated the police. 

Palacios Riots

The recording showed, that as Palacios was running from officers, he tripped three times and made a conscious effort each time to pick up his gun.

When the officers confirmed after the third fall that Palacios was still holding a gun, they opened fire. When he dropped to the ground after being shot, Palacios rolled onto his back and pointed the gun in the direction of the officers.  They opened fire a second time.  

The board ruled that the shootings were in accordance with the department policy and the law. The also board concluded that less lethal force not a viable option.

Without the body cams, the police might have been wrongfully prosecuted.

Protective Orders to Prevent Misuse of Information

In my court, before the D.A. voluntarily turns police body cam recordings over to the defense, they request a protective order. The purpose of the protective order is to protect the privacy of individuals whose images might have been captured.  The order also prevents misuse of the information. The recording can only be used for legitimate court purposes.

Conclusion

The advantages of police body cams far outweigh the costs. The public should be willing, even eager, to bear these costs.

Police body cameras are vital in improving the effectiveness and reputation of law enforcement. In short, police body cams are a necessary part of our search for “truth, justice, and the American way.”   

(“Police Body Cameras,” “Killing of George Floyd,” Killing of Bernardo Palacios Carbajal,” Wikipedia; “Police Body Cameras,” Cato Institute, http://www.cato.org; “Citizen panel exonerates cops in Bernardo Palacios Carbajal,” http://www.sltrib.com, 14 July 2020; “Civilian Review Board ‘exonerates’ officers in Palacios shooting,” http://www.deseret.com, 14 July 2020; “Police Bodycam Video Shows George Floyd’s Distress During Fatal Arrest,” Jon Collins, 15 July 2020)

(Other Articles: londonedition.net)

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