Video cameras have been available for use in police cars since the 1980s, but only began to become common in the 1990s. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 60% of police departments and 66% of sheriff's offices now use video cameras in their vehicles. Camera systems have been proven to provide many benefits for law enforcement.
Improved Officer Safety
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conducted a study in 2002 measuring the impact of police car cameras. The survey found that officers felt slightly safer with the dashboard cameras present, and many officers said that they critiqued their own behavior looking for safety issues. Officers also felt that potentially dangerous situations were de-escalated when citizens were aware that they were being recorded.
The IACP study also examined situations involving complaints against officers. The study found that in in instances where the event was recorded, 96.2% of the officers were exonerated by the recording. Only 3.8% of the complaints were substantiated by the recordings. Supervisors who took part in the survey indicated that over half of the complaints made were actually withdrawn once the complainant found that the incident had been recorded, saving time and money investigating unfounded complaints.
Preserving the Chain of Evidence
Recordings from in-car camera systems have long been admissible as evidence in court if the chain of custody has been preserved. The digital systems now available make this process easier and more secure. Video footage can be uploaded automatically to secure servers without requiring any action from officers, and access restricted to designated personnel responsible for property and evidence management.
Improved Officer Training
Incident recordings can be used in developing lesson plans for both routine and unusual situations. Video can be used to demonstrate inappropriate practices as well as serving to reinforce proper procedures, and enables trainers to do more than just present theory to new trainees. Incident recordings also can be used for in-service training and continuing education, as well as debriefing officers after an incident has occurred to analyze performance.
Improved Public Opinion
During the IACP study, evaluators also used written surveys and held open meetings with the public in an effort to determine public opinion. They found the majority of those that responded approved of the use of recorders in police cars, and believed that cameras increase officer accountability.
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