Spokane just announced yesterday that 1/2 of the patrol officers will have to wear a body camera as part of a 6-month pilot project.
5 years ago I wrote a blog post asking if people could really imagine the police in this state wearing body cameras. Back then it was a more theoretical issue – the only police officers using such cameras were 13 officers with the San Jose police department, and that was on a trial basis. Let’s look at the changes that have occurred over the last 5 years.
San Jose, Then and Now: While San Jose may have been ahead its time in testing the cameras, they are behind the times in the execution. The San Jose police union is still dragging its heals in the implementation of the devices. Cameras are already being used in the surrounding departments of Oakland, Richmond, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Campbell, Union City, East Bay Regional Parks and BART.
Spokane and Washington State: The jurisdiction that I practice in where I see cameras most often is Pullman, WA. The Pullman PD requires body cameras for all its officers. Most of the cases are MIP cases, although sometimes the cameras will document resisting arrest, obstructing a law enforcement officer, or other related charges. Throughout much of the state, the cameras are optional, with officers volunteering if they feel the cameras might help them build a case.
The practical effect that I failed to anticipate (5 years ago in my post) was the time that would be required to view all the videos. As a defense lawyer I often spend 2 or 3 hours watching body camera video. Even for more mundane offenses such as DUI, there may be 2 or more officers with videos from different angles. The video may depict the driving of the car, the field sobriety tests, the arrest, the long transport to the jail, the booking, the blowing into the breath instrument, etc. Prosecutors also have pointed out the time that they must spend on each case. Also, when there are issues with a case, the judge must then take his or her time to review the video. Another practical effect that has arisen is the privacy rights of the suspect involved. In Washington state, one individual has filed public records requests for every single video made my all police agencies.
As I mentioned in my blog post 5 years ago, a body camera might discourage police abuse, but there are many times an officer might subjectively believe he is acting appropriately, when others might find the behavior questionable. For example, this deployment of a taser on an uncooperative suspect in this video raised a few eyebrows: