In Lexington County, when an officer starts a traffic stop and turns on the squad's lights, the system goes back 60 seconds and captures anything that has been recorded to the DVR's buffer. Probable cause is captured in the first minute and as the stop continues both audio and video are recorded. The stop also can be categorized, such as one using force, with an aggressive suspect. Back at the station, with the wireless hot spots set up, only officers with their own passwords at the administrative level can enter the system to view those videos.
"In terms of chain of custody, once the officer finishes a traffic stop, that evidence is digitally transmitted and we know there has been no one between the officer and the evidence technician or the prosecuting attorney or district attorney," says Brothers. "The chain of custody for the evidence is almost impervious."
This footage lessons liability by preventing a he said-she said type of situation. It shows exactly what occurred as it happened. It is also an excellent training tool, as over the course of a week, a month or a quarter, all the traffic stops can be reviewed, looking for various procedures, verbal patterns or how cars are approached.
"The technology is absolutely there today to protect the town, city or state from illegitimate lawsuits, there to protect the officers themselves and the community so they know there is someone there watching," Brothers says. "The move to digital also means all the procedures involved with using a tape in the camera are eliminated. No one has to store VHS tapes, handle them, and they don't break; there's a lot more room in the evidence room now as well. Retrieval is so much quicker now, versus the VHS tape. An officer's traffic stops can now be burned on a DVD for them to take to court and that's that."
Hudson has noticed a drop in the number of pleas with the technology. "Once those involved in a stop see the video footage they often end up saying, ‘I'm not going to waste my time hiring an attorney.' Likewise, the technology can cut both ways and if an officer is not behaving in a manner they've been taught to behave in, that brings up whole different issues."
Hudson is all for the technology getting even better, and hopes that any glitches involving missing information can be kept to a minimum as well. Unfortunately, in South Carolina the law still tries the video, the data master and the officer before the offender is tried. "Our law remains fairly backward," adds Hudson. "It benefits everyone to have clarity and transparency, and the video in the car really helps that. We're usually first, second, third or fourth highest in the nation in highway fatalities. We've made progress in our laws, but we have a long way to go, too."
Much of that journey will be available on camera.
Freelance writer Peter Hildebrandt's articles have appeared in a variety of trade, general interest and consumer publications. Many of his articles concentrate on environmental, water conservation/reuse and energy issues. He has also written a novel on Edward de Vere, someone a growing number of people now believe to be the author behind the pen name "William Shakespeare."