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Privacy Concerns Cause Cops to Resist Video? I Call Bull Shit!

By Randall Grantham Community Columnist Sept. 6, 2023

(I wrote this several years ago, but with various law enforcement agencies embarking on a new policy of video cameras on the officer, I thought it was still topical.)

If you took all the girls I knew when I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know they'd never match my sweet imagination
Everything looks worse in black and white.
Paul Simon - Kodachrome

“Eyes bloodshot and glassy.  Slurred speech and unsteady on his/her feet, using the car for balance.  Strong odor of alcoholic beverages emitting (sometimes spelled “omitting”) from the driver’s breath.  Performance of Field Sobriety Exercises indicated impairment.”

What is that you say?  That is the near boiler-plate text of almost every DUI arrest affidavit written by lawmen everywhere.  I have it memorized from having read it so often, but how many times is it true and how often is it just put there to make the case?

A DUI arrest, unlike any other crime, is an offense based on opinion and the officer’s discretion.  If he feels like your driving is unusual enough to pull you over and then if it’s his opinion that you are impaired, you are arrested.  Every other crime I can think of is a clear cut issue.  Did you drive with a suspended license, did you rob a bank, or did you possess any amount of an illegal drug?  These are all clear cut crimes that only depend on whether or not it was you.

DUI is a different animal.  It’s not against the law to have a few drinks and drive.  It only becomes a crime if you’ve had too much to drink and your “faculties are impaired.”  And that question is based on the officer-in-the-field’s opinion.  And when that opinion is wrong and a person who is arrested is taken downtown for a breath or blood test, it’s too late to say I’m sorry.  No matter how low the blood alcohol level is, you don’t get “unarrested”.  And, after you bond out of jail, you usually don’t get the charges dropped either, even with a blow of 0.000.  The state may reduce the charges, but you’re stuck in the system with the officer sticking to his report that you “failed” the roadside tests and exhibited the classic signs of impairment (see 1st paragraph).

The reason I bring this up is that I read that some members of the Pasco Police Department are resisting efforts to have video cameras installed in every police car that digitally capture every stop and citizen contact.  For years, only a few specialized DUI officers have had bulky, low capacity VCR cameras in their cars which they can turn on and off as they see fit. But even that was sometimes resisted by not only the individual officers, but sometimes by the department chiefs, themselves.

Years ago when I was an assistant public defender in Jacksonville, the JSO sold all their portable BAT mobiles and video equipment to other agencies because they felt they were losing too many cases when the jury (or the prosecutors) got to see the on-scene video.  And several years ago in Pinellas County there was some law made when defense lawyers felt that the sheriff had an unwritten policy of specifically not video taping suspects to avoid having the evidence which can, quite frankly, cut both ways.

I’ve had cases captured on video where my client was clearly messed up and it makes the resolution of the case so much easier, if not better, at least as it relates to my client’s interests.  But I’ve also had cases where the video showed my client was as sober as a judge.  There’s no arguing about the video, as opposed to having the cop testify how f’d up my client was, while I parade a group of his buddies and relatives to the stand saying he was fine when they last saw him. 

In today’s world of burgeoning technology, there is no reason to have to rely solely on the opinion evidence of one or two people.  We have the means to very easily digitally record every stop and every contact between citizens and law enforcement and there is no excuse for someone to say, “my mike wasn’t working”, or  “I didn’t have time to turn on the camera.”  If a sworn officer of the law does not want a camera in his car, I say  “What are you afraid of?”. The camera can be your best friend and it is almost always the best evidence.

I remember one cop telling me why he used the equipment and kept his camera and sound recorder going for the entire ride to jail for all female arrestees. He had what he thought was a rather uneventful arrest of a young lady and transported her to the jail.  However, once they got there, she loudly began asking him, in front of his Sgt., “What am I doing here?  You told me if I did that “thing” for you, you’d let me go.”

The officer calmly explained that the entire ride had been filmed and that if she wanted to persist in these allegations to go right ahead, but she needed to be aware of the consequences of filing a false police report.  Needless to say, she shut her mouth and he was back on the street to continue his crime-fighting in minutes.

As a criminal defense attorney I say put the cameras in there and use them.  For better or for worse, it’s the truth.

(Randall C. Grantham is a lifelong resident of Lutz who practices law from his offices on Dale Mabry Highway. He can be reached at Copyright 2007, 2015 RCG)