In-Car Police Video Systems Under Assault

The highway patrolman was just being cautious when he pulled over the rental truck with a broken taillight as it headed toward Washington, D.C., on Interstate 95. Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, law enforcement has given greater scrutiny to rental trucks and similar vehicles. Both of the attacks mentioned involved rental trucks packed with explosives. As the patrolman approached the driver – a young man with a beard and nervous eyes – a dark object was tossed out of the passenger window. The patrolman was not sure what the “object” was, but it looked to him like a weapon.  He instinctively drew his pistol, and seconds later the driver was pressed to the ground, his hands cuffed behind his back.  The suspect later wasentified as a member of a domestic Hezbollah cell. A visual image of the incident was captured by a tiny camera mounted on the dash of the patrolman’s vehicle. A majority of patrol cars now are equipped with in-car video systems, which have two purposes: to protect law-enforcement officers from fraudulent claims against them; and to improve agency accountability. The video systems also provide valuable evidence that can be used to prosecute criminals. Authorities later reviewed the patrolman’s video, which clearly showed the driver trying to get rid of evidence by throwing a gun out of the rental truck.  The case has yet to go to trial. But if new regulations proposed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) are enacted, the driver could be set free. So could hundreds of other criminals, some of them already convicted. Good Intentions Gone Awry The scenario described above, although based on numerous real-life cases, is imaginary – but the proposed IACP regulations, and the harmful consequences that would result, are very real.  The ability of law-enforcement agencies throughout the country, at all levels of government, to fight crime – and, not incidentally, the war on terrorism – will be dealt a severe blow if the proposed IACP regulations for in-car video systems are not modified. What happened is this: With the best of intentions, the IACP created a committee in 2004 to establish minimum performance specifications for in-car video systems. The original goal was to enhance police safety, but it has gone far beyond that. A comment period ends on August 31, after which the IACP is expected to issue final regulations. Among the specifications being recommended is a requirement that all new in-car video systems be equipped with high-resolution cameras (4CIF). At first glance, that requirement might seem reasonable – but making it mandatory at all times and in all situations will cause chaos in police stations and

The ability of law-enforcement agencies will be dealt a severe blow if the proposed IACP regulations are not modified

courtrooms throughout the country. A rigid insistence that only new, higher-resolution 4CIF cameras will be acceptable in the future will make the older video systems now installed in police cars seem inadequate.  For that reason it is almost certain that defense attorneys will argue that video captured by the earlier in-car systems should be ruled as insufficient evidence, and will be able to cite the IACP as the defining authority.   The immediate result will be that hundreds of upcoming cases involving in-car video imagery will be jeopardized. Much worse, though, is the likelihood that many police departments may decide to scrap their present in-car video systems on the grounds that the visual evidence provided by those systems cannot be used in court.   Making the problem worse is the fact that the nation’s police forces already are having difficulty purchasing video systems for their vehicles because of the high cost of those systems.  The new 4CIF systems mandated by the IACP will be even more expensive, which means that many police departments will be unable to purchase video systems for their patrol cars. A Clause and a Declaration Both Needed There is, fortunately, a quick and affordable solution to this problem – namely, that the shortcomings in the specifications proposed can be easily avoided if the IACP would simply include a grandfather clause that permits the continued use of existing in-car video systems for a reasonable period of time. To do this, the IACP must specifically declare that the systems currently in use are acceptable and that the video recordings produced by these systems are sufficient for submission as evidence in a court of law on a case-by-case basis, just as they have been in the past. It also is essential for the IACP to provide a transitional period – perhaps two years – to implement the new specifications. It is questionable whether any company now in the video business can immediately meet the proposed IACP specifications for an in-car 4CIF system. As with other new or improved products of any type, it will take time to design, test, evaluate, produce, and distribute the new systems. In the meantime, without a transitional period, law-enforcement agencies will not want to purchase any in-car video system that does not meet the new standards. Current contracts and budgets will be thrown into disarray, and precious months might well pass before any new systems are available for purchase. There is no reason to cause such disruption to law enforcement, the courts, and the video-system manufacturers. Permitting – or, better, mandating – a two-year period before the IACP specifications go into force would ensure a smooth transition. It already has taken nearly two years to draft the specifications, so another two years before implementation would not be unreasonable, particularly given the complexity of the technology involved.   During the transition period, law-enforcement agencies would be able to change over to the new technology without any significant disruptions. Of much greater significance is that existing equipment would not be made obsolete overnight, court cases would not be jeopardized, and, most importantly, law-enforcement safety would not be impaired. The battleground against terrorism is being fought on many fronts. As the nation focuses greater attention on terrorist threats, care should be taken that current law-enforcement tasks are not neglected and that police forces have the tools they need to get their job done.  In the preceding scenario, the driver was a Hezbollah member. Disrupting that and similar organizations, and keeping their members behind bars – even if “only” on a firearms charge – could be critical to winning the war on terrorism.   _____________________________________________________ A few other reasons why the IACP specifications for in-car video systems must be modified:

  • Technologies Overly Complicated and Unaffordable – The proposed specifications require that the new in-car video systems being designed incorporate many complicated and expensive technologies.  Many police forces prefer systems that are less complicated but more reliable–and less expensive to operate.
  • Anti-Competitive in Nature – The proposed specifications direct law-enforcement agencies to purchase the new in-car video systems only from companies that are already manufacturing systems.  Prototype systems are prohibited.  This mandate unfairly prevents new companies from entering the market and makes it less likely that innovative technologies will be incorporated to reduce expenses and improve performance.



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