Police Dashboard Cam: Savior Or Career Ender


The unblinking eye of a dashboard camera in a police car can be a career-ender, says the Dallas Morning News. That may be the result for officer Robert Powell. A dash cam preserved his 13-minute harangue of Ryan Moats during a traffic stop as the NFL player pleaded with the rookie officer to let him be with his mother-in-law dying in a nearby hospital room. Police Chief David Kunkle has been inundated with calls to fire Powell, currently on leave. Powell called the incident “unfortunate.”

As bad as Powell’s experience has been, experts say that for most police officers, in-car video can rescue a career threatened by bogus allegations of misconduct. Cameras have “had a huge impact in being able to provide independent visual documentation of the incident,” said Sam Walker, a national police accountability expert.

“If the officer did the right thing, then it’s good for us to know that and have some independent documentation,” he said. “If the officer was in the wrong, then it’s good for us to know that. This is what’s been lacking in most police use-of-force incidents. Traditionally, you would have had a he said-he said situation. As the cliché has always been, the tie goes to the officer.” About 67 percent of Dallas’ 906 squad cars are outfitted with cameras, which cost about $4,400 each. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says that in 2003, 54 percent of police departments in cities with more than 250,000 people were using in-car cameras. That’s up from 34 percent in 2000.

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