March 2012 Warning Bells Article

New DICVS order

By the time you read this, the new South Bureau order on the Digital In-Car Video System (DICVS) will have been out for a few weeks. The first thing you should understand is that turning on the video camera when you are required to is a big deal to management. The second thing you should understand is that there’s a philosophical war in progress among those in command of the Department over the true purpose of the DICVS. Some want it to be a tool to help you do your job, and others want it to be a tool for Internal Affairs to monitor you. For the most part, you can have a lot to do with which philosophy wins.

Forty years ago, there were no video cameras. Some of us in patrol, ahead of the times, hid tape recorders under our hats or in hollowed-out books. Tape recorders in those days were the size of paperback novels. At least the ones we could afford. We would’ve killed for the devices now available to you; still, we ended up with ironclad prosecutions and unfounded personnel complaints. Twenty years later, Internal Affairs was auditing some of those same tapes looking for improper statements. (My gosh! You said “bullsh*t” to this gang member!) Therein lies the philosophical battle. There is nothing new under the sun.

The new order, Order Number 1, Deployment and Use of the Digital In-Car Video System, dated Jan. 29, 2012, was issued to standardize procedures throughout South Bureau, with an eye for it to be adopted Department-wide when video cameras eventually go into all black and whites. The order includes many things that favor the philosophy of using the DICVS as a tool to help you do a better job. It expressly states on the first page that the system’s purpose is not to monitor private conversations between officers. Furthermore, it is not meant “to be used as a negative critical response to officer tactics.” The idea is to help improve tactical response, and the order expressly states that “comment cards will only be written in extreme situations.”

Review for purposes of improvement is what it should be all about. Tactics can always be improved, and thinking about better ways to do things is valuable. Review for purposes of writing negative comments is expressly discouraged. The order contemplates DICVS as a constructive tool, not a disciplinary hammer.

That being said, the requirement to activate the system during pedestrian stops is clear. But is that bad? On balance, it is not. The odds are overwhelming that it is more likely to help you than hurt you. The odds have been working out like this. Sources from South Bureau have looked at personnel complaints arising out of situations where the DICVS was used by officers during the last six months. There were 75 personnel complaints, of which 55 were unfounded; 11 were determined to be non-disciplinary; and one was exonerated. These figures tally at about a 90-percent clearance rate in the officer’s favor. It should be noted that this 90 percent does not include any “not resolved” adjudications. An additional benefit of the video camera is that it allows a decision to be made. Careerdamaging “not resolved” adjudications are reduced.

We are being told by the powers-thatbe in South Bureau that the intention is to emphasize the use of the DICVS as a tool for increasing officer safety through positive training, facilitating more thorough reporting, fostering a positive relationship with the community by resolving biased-policing complaints, conducting more accurate personnelcomplaint investigations and providing evidence for criminal prosecutions. The intention is not supposed to be to audit you for misconduct. DICVS will be utilized to review your actions during a stop if misconduct is alleged against you, but according to the statistics above, this review should be helpful.

On the other hand, if the video confirms the allegation of misconduct, not much can be done in your defense. This is the other side of the double-edged sword. With all the false complaints being alleged against any officer who actively does his or her job in South Bureau, it makes sense to turn on the video camera system at every opportunity. Most of the time, you do things right. A video camera recording is cheap insurance against that personnel complaint made a week or so later by an unhappy arrestee.

However, doing things right is not the same as doing things perfectly right. The danger in the DICVS is the Department manager who wants to audit your every stop hypercritically. The surest way to damn the DICVS is to chicken sh*t to death every officer whose stop is audited. Officer resistance to the system’s use and fewer investigatory stops will be the result. These auditor-type managers should hear warning bells.

The DICVS is a powerful tool in your bag of tricks. Think strategically about its long-term effects on the investigatory stop you are about to make. Think about how this video can help you in court. How it can help you if there is a lawsuit. How it can help you if there is a use of force. How it can help you if there is a personnel complaint. Then flip that switch and use the DICVS effectively as your tool, not the suspect’s.

And don’t forget: When the situation is stabilized, turn it off.

A great deal of good can come out of the DICVS if it is used as a tool to help make you a better-trained police officer and protect you from false complaints. A great deal of evil is also possible if it is misused as a Big Brother gotcha device. My advice is to embrace this technology based upon the Department’s representation that they are going to use it properly — at least until they prove otherwise. The potential gains to your career and your effectiveness as an officer are worth the risk.

Be legally careful out there.

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