Police Use of Body Cameras

The city of Tampa recently announced that it accepted five proposals for supplying police body cameras to the Tampa Police Department. The city’s requirements include:

  • The cameras are easily activated in stressful situations.
  • The cameras are easily mounted to the outermost portion of an officer’s uniform.
  • The captured images can be reviewed in a patrol vehicle.
  • The officers will not be able to edit or delete the recordings.

The city’s goal is to have each officer equipped with a camera by the end of 2015. This decision is a positive step toward assuring due process and fairness for both the police and the people they come into contact with during the course of their duties.

Additional Requirements Needed

Tampa’s basic requirements for the body cameras are a good start but fail to address two important issues. First, the cameras should be in continuous operation while the officers are on duty. If the police have the ability to start and stop the recording, questions of context and continuity could arise with regard to arrests and other actions. Second, there must be established rules for when and how the recordings can be used, as well as how long they will be kept. Whether or not the city of Tampa adopts these suggested additional guidelines, the use of body cameras will benefit the police and public.

Cameras and DUIs Stops

For a DUI defendant, a video recording of their stop and arrest could be their best or worst evidence. If the recording shows clear indication of intoxication, the matter may be settled. However, most DUI arrest reports have nearly identical verbiage which includes statements that the defendant:

  • Had the strong smell of alcohol on his breath,
  • Fumbled for his driver’s license,
  • Had blood-shot and glazed eyes, and
  • Was unsteady on his feet.

This DUI arrest report language is o ubiquitous that it can be likened to boilerplate language in a contract, but defendants have few resources to challenge the officers’ supposed observations. A video recording of the arrest would document a defendant’s responses and behaviors during his interaction with the police. Later, a defense attorney might use that recording to challenge the officers’ written account of the arrest and their determination of DUI.

Cameras and Automobile Searches

During a traffic stop, the police may request permission from the driver to search the vehicle. When permission is granted, the police may conduct a search for drugs, open containers of alcohol, or contraband. Questions have arisen in many cases as to whether the defendant freely gave consent or was coerced by the police to do so. Body cameras on police uniforms would document if the consent was informed and granted or whether it was achieved through direct or implicit threats made by the officers.

Tampa is one of the rowing numbers of cities and municipalities that have chosen to require their police officers to wear body cameras during the course of the duties. This decision will help protect the rights and safety of all parties.

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