Drug Arrests in the New World of Body Cams
Body cameras are being widely deployed by police departments across the country, and they are being used in a growing number of arrests. Proponents of body-cams like to point to a number of potential benefits that this technology may provide for both law enforcement and those who have run-ins with the law. These include:
Transparency and Accountability
Perhaps the most important reason to implement body cameras in police departments is that they can provide better accountability and transparency when law enforcement officers interact with the general public. In many communities, citizens do not trust the police to protect and serve them as they should. This is particularly true in communities with a large percentage of minorities where police have been accused of using excessive force and other civil rights violations in recent years. The availability of body-cam footage to show exactly what is happening when the police are interacting with citizens in these communities may help improve these citizens’ perception of law enforcement.
Greater Civility when Police and Citizens Interact
Everyone tends to behave better when they know they are on camera. When a citizen is informed that their encounter with a police officer is being recorded, the belief is that this will foster greater stability between law enforcement and citizens. In theory, this should vastly reduce the number of escalations that occur during these interactions, thus reducing the need for the police to use force to effectively deal with the situation.
Video footage captured by body-cams are said to be able to provide more solid documentation of what occurs during police arrests. This would be especially important if there are differing accounts of the event. The footage would help show what happened during the arrest and the nature of the crimes committed. This would reduce the time required for police to complete their paperwork and provide more corroboration for prosecutors in criminal cases.
The Louisville Police Department (LMPD) began a pilot program using body-cams in one of its divisions in 2015. Today, more than 900 officers from the LMPD are equipped with body cameras. In 2017, WDRB Louisville reported some feedback from local criminal defense attorneys about its use.
In one case, prosecutors dismissed criminal trespassing and drug charges against several defendants because the body cameras showed that the defendants were arrested without probable cause and without being read their Miranda rights. An attorney for one of the defendants said that without video documentation of the incident, the defendant “would have likely pleaded guilty to amended charges rather than face trial”.
Having video evidence of a police encounter cuts both ways. It is true that body-cams can often help the defendant, especially given the fact that video footage can replace what used to be an unfair credibility contest between police officers and those they arrested. That said, video evidence can also show that the police acted properly, making it easier for prosecutors to obtain a conviction. Either way, the use of body cameras can help resolve cases more smoothly, because there are fewer disputed facts between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The Problem with Police Body Cameras
While body-cams may have the potential to deliver greater transparency, improve civility, and provide more conclusive facts in a criminal case, the technology is not without drawbacks. One problem with these cameras is that police control when to turn them on and off. And we have seen the rare crooked cop taking advantage of this to try to frame a defendant.
For example, in 2017, a Baltimore police officer submitted footage as evidence of a drug bust. The video shows the officer wandering through a back yard filled with junk when he stumbles across a discarded soup can. The officer picks up the can and discovers a small baggie inside with drugs in it. The baggie, the video footage, and the officer’s testimony were all submitted to the Baltimore Police Department.
What the arresting officer apparently did not realize was that the body-cam he was using had a “fail safe” feature which saves 30 seconds of footage prior to hitting the “record” button. During those crucial 30 seconds, the officer is shown pulling out a baggie and placing it in the soup can, the same baggie that he later “discovers” as evidence of drug possession.
These and similar incidents show the inherent problems with body cameras, how they are used, and how an unscrupulous police officer may misuse them against innocent citizens. While body-cams have certainly benefited some criminal defendants, actions need to be taken to address these problems and further protect citizens against police abuse.
What to Keep in Mind in Your Interaction with the Police
In Louisville, Kentucky, the likelihood is any interaction with the Police is being recorded. (The main exception is the narcotics Detectives with LMPD. Generally, they do not wear body cameras). Therefore, it is important to 1) Make no incriminating statements. In fact, minimize your statements altogether. 2) Behave appropriately 3) Ask if you are being detained or are free to leave. 4) Remember, the police are just fishing for enough justification to search the vehicle, conduct field sobriety tests, and search your person. Do not provide with the police with that justification.
Contact Attorney Ron Aslam if You are Facing Criminal Charges in Kentucky
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Louisville or anywhere in Kentucky, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating aggressively for your rights and interests. Whether the police have body-cam footage and/or other evidence in the case, there are still various potential defense strategies that may be employed (depending on the circumstances) to help obtain a dismissal, reduction of charges, or otherwise mitigate the situation as much as possible. Call attorney Ron Aslam today at 502-581-1676 to schedule an initial consultation. You may also message us through our online contact form or stop by our Louisville office in person at your convenience.