What every police officer needs to know
By Jennifer Trattler
Who best to inform you on how to use the evidence of video cameras to your advantage than the man who does it for a living? So, the NJ State PBA flew in Michael Rains, the principal and founding member of the California-based Rains Lucia Stern Law Firm, to speak to PBA members at the annual mini-convention in Atlantic City on March 4.
Rains, the head of the Criminal Defense and Legal Defense of Peace Officers Practice Groups at his law firm, was a former officer with the Santa Monica (California) Police Department and came from a place of understanding during his nearly two-hour long presentation.
“I’m here to talk about your new world. Your new world consists of video evidence. The realities of video evidence and recent events in Ferguson and New York have changed the way of police work forever,” stated Rains.
Body cameras are coming. There’s no way around it. Departments and the PBA have to prepare for it but as officers; you have to prepare yourself.
Rain first explained the six assumptions that every officer needs to make about video evidence.
The six assumptions
- Video and audio evidence of police use of force is usually graphic and ugly.
- Every contact between an officer and individual is being recorded.
- The fact that an officer does not recall an incident as it is shown on the video does not mean the officer is lying.
- Video evidence is more clearly and accurately analyzed if audio recordings accompany it.
- Video may not capture the event precisely and may only provide circumstantial evidence.
- Forget about watching a video replay of an incident once and understanding what the video shows. In most cases analyzing video evidence accurately requires hours of time.
And Rains wrapped up his segment by addressing the most important takeaways from the lecture.
The 10 most important takeaways from wearing body cameras
- When should the body camera be activated?
- Right of police officers to review video before preparing reports and giving interviews.
- Procedures for redacting private and personal information accidently recorded.
- The length of time video is stored and retained.
- Monitoring by supervision unrelated to a complaint or investigation.
- Department use of video for training.
- Can video be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act?
- The cost:
- Paying overtime to review video at the end of shift before writing a report.
- Storage space and uploading video content to a server.
- Repair and maintenance of equipment.
- Hiring a systems administrator.
- Educating the public about limitations of video evidence and why officer’s accounts differ from the video.
- Re-thinking how the agency will respond to the public and media when a graphic or ugly use of force captured on video goes viral.