Dashboard cameras can give law enforcement officers a good tool for recording criminal activity, or, as one woman discovered, a look at the life she almost lost, when a Greer, South Carolina, officer's dashcam recorded his successful attempt to get her out of her car just before an oncoming train smashed into it.
But dash-cams have also recorded events some many wish had never happened, such as recent incidents causing racial tension in South Carolina. Some individuals fear negative video footage from this department shows human nature is not progressing as quickly as the technology that records it. Consider the following cases involving the South Carolina Highway Patrol:
A mobile video system captured former South Carolina trooper, John Sawyer, kicking Sergio Caridi in the head several times as he lay on the ground following an interstate chase. The incident occurred in 2006, but the video emerged in 2008, and Sawyer was charged with violating the victim's civil rights. Caridi is also suing the South Carolina Department of Public Safety for negligence in training and supervising the accused officer.
Another video, dated April 28, 2007, shows Lance Cpl. Alexander Richardson chasing a suspect, who is on foot, through an apartment complex with his squad car. The car went between buildings and through a common area with a playground, while people scrambled to get out of the way. Richardson struck the suspect with his car, and the man stumbled before he resumed running. Richardson, 45, was reprimanded and ordered to take a stress management course.
Lance Cpl. Steve Garren was also charged with a federal civil rights violation after being caught ramming a suspect with his patrol car on a video dated June 24, 2007. Afterward, Garren reportedly said, "I nailed the f--- out of him. He went flying up into the air." Someone asked, "You hit him?" to which witnesses say Garren responded, "Yeah, I hit him. I was trying to hit him." In October 2008, Garren was acquitted in federal court for violating the civil rights of Marvin Grant.
In another video from December 2004, Lance Cpl. Daniel Campbell can be heard telling a running suspect, "You better run, [racial epithet], because I'm fixing to kill you." After that video emerged, Gov. Mark Sanford forced the resignations of the Department of Public Safety director and highway patrol commander because of their leniency with the officer.
The department is currently reviewing these and other incidents, not just for race relations, but policy violations, according to Sid Gaulden, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. Each case will others and decisions will be made based on the findings.
When South Carolina Department of Public Safety Director Mark Keel came on board, he immediately instituted a policy change requiring all personnel to "report and challenge any unethical behavior" of colleagues. Keel also transferred the Office of Professional Conduct to his direct oversight. Additional policy changes could be forthcoming, although Gaulden didn't have any details on such changes as of yet.
The current policy stipulates that officers operating a patrol vehicle equipped with an in-car video recording system activate the in-car system, including the audio portion, as soon as the blue lights and/or siren begin to flash. Once activated, the system is to remain on as long as the officer interacts with the individual(s) being stopped, including times when violator(s) are being transported to a jail or detention facility.
Interactions with citizens that do not involve the use of a blue light and/or siren, are recorded when practical. In all cases involving enforcement activities, once the audio and video recording has begun it is not to be stopped, paused, turned off or otherwise interfered with at any time until the enforcement event is concluded. In cases where the blue light remains activated for safety purposes, the officer at his discretion may terminate the recording. When a trooper turns on blue lights to initiate a traffic stop, the video recording system activates automatically. The trooper does; however, have to turn on his lapel microphone once he exits the vehicle.