Captain Video To The Sheriff's Department's Rescue

July 14, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Come this fall, if you're pulled over in your car by a deputy from the county Sheriff's Department, you might find yourself on candid camera.

The Sheriff's Department plans to install video cameras in patrol cars this fall to document drunken driving arrests, accidents and traffic stops. Videotapes will be used in court as evidence and in investigations and police training.

"(The video cameras) are on the frontier edge of police work," said Cpl. Steven E. Bodway, supervisor of the department's traffic division.

Harford's sheriff's department would join a trend in police departments across the country installing video cameras in patrol vehicles to record routine traffic stops. In Maryland, police departments using video cameras in patrol cars include Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Frederick and Baltimore counties.

State police are testing two models of video cameras to see if the agency should use the equipment on a permanent basis,spokesman Chuck Jackson said. A report on the cameras is expected to be completed this fall.

Meanwhile, the county Sheriff's Department has been testing one camcorder in a patrol car since June. The camera was donated to the department by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Department administrators are hoping to order at least three more camcorders, costing $2,200 each, Bodway said. The camcorders are expected to arrive by Aug. 15, when the departmentstakes over routine traffic investigations from the state police.

The fist-sized Nikon camcorders, which weigh about 1 pound apiece, are mounted to the center of the police cruiser's --board. A monitor, attached to the mount, shows the scene being recorded by the camcorder.

The deputies wear a wireless microphone on their belts to recordconversations with the motorists -- who must agree to the audio recording or it can't be conducted, Bodway said.

Officers don't need permission to videotape the scene.

The videotapes are expected to provide strong evidence in drunken driving cases, increasing convictions and quickening the court process by encouraging defendants to enter guilty pleas, Bodway said.

Bodway noted that in court some officers often have a hard time describing a motorist's behavior and theirperformance on field-sobriety tests at the time they are stopped.

"It's very difficult for an officer to describe a picture using words," Bodway said. "If a picture is worth a thousand words, then videotape can be priceless."

But Carl R. Schlaich, a former public defender working as a private defense attorney in Harford, said the videotapes could help acquit defendants who are "borderline" intoxicated byshowing their performance on sobriety tests.

"We're going to see that defendants did noticeably better (on the tests) than the officerreported," Schlaich said.

The defense attorney agreed that the videotapes would assure convictions of defendants who were extremely drunk at the time of their arrests.

Bodway and Schlaich see other advantages of using video cameras.

The police corporal said the cameras would document evidence at the scene of traffic accidents so investigators can later reconstruct the collision.

At accident scenes,police officers first attend to injured motorists and passengers, Bodway said. During this time, vehicles are sometimes moved and valuable evidence could be lost.

The video cameras would film the position of vehicles, motorists and passengers at the time of the collision,the damage and possible mechanical defects of the vehicles and witnesses at the scene, Bodway said.

In addition, videotapes of actual arrests and traffic stops would be used for training programs at police academies to show cadets the proper procedures to follow, Bodway said.

Schlaich added that the cameras could serve as a watchdog forofficers to curb police brutality incidents.

Schlaich and Bodway agreed that the cameras also would deter suspects from committing other crimes, such as resisting arrest, if they know they are being taped.

Bodway noted that a videotape provided pictures of three men who beat a Texas policeman to death while a camera in his patrol car recorded the officer questioning the men. The suspects were captured with information gleaned from the recording.

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