Smile, You're on Police Video

July 28, 1991

Light in weight, getting smaller seemingly by the month, becoming cheaper by the year, video cameras are an unquestioned American passion these days. Shows capitalizing on this passion abound on the television networks.

The power of the equipment and the medium is demonstrated by the wide viewing of the videotape of Los Angeles police

officers brutally beating Rodney King. That one clip led to charges against four officers, forced the city's police chief to announce his retirement, caused most police departments to review their policies and sensitized thousands to the reality that police brutality can and does occur.

Police, too, are increasingly among those playing video games. Some European highways are already being monitored for speeders by television cameras; exceed the limit, get your ticket in the mail. The idea is being talked about in this country. Police in many states are using videotape in arresting and interviewing suspects.

In Maryland, another wrinkle of "Totally Hidden Video" has begun, thanks to Aetna Life and Casualty Insurance Co. and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. You're going to hate it, too, if you're suspected of drunken driving.

Aetna, working with MADD chapters, has provided more than 1,000 video cameras at $1,300 apiece to 152 police departments nationally. The Maryland State Police and police departments in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Harford, Howard and Washington counties have or are getting units.

The dash-mounted cameras will be used by officers to document a suspected drunken driver's patterns and responses to sobriety tests when stopped for investigation. Police say the visual portion of the tape can be used in court legally, although questions remain over whether the audio portion can be admissible evidence.

Aetna, which claims to pay out $200 million annually as a result of drunken driving accidents, says its experience is that few videotaped suspects opt for trial. That, the huge insurer says, toughens enforcement of drunken driving laws and saves the state money for prosecuting and trying cases.

We support this high-tech approach to law enforcement, so long as it is legally and consistently applied. Those in the criminal justice system should be wary of abuses or excesses in applying this video potential effectively. But if this equipment helps make our highways safer, its use should be encouraged.

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