Board Recommends Devices in City Cruisers

In its report to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and others, the Police Complaints Board recommended cameras in D.C. patrol cars.
In its report to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and others, the Police Complaints Board recommended cameras in D.C. patrol cars. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008

The board that handles complaints about D.C police misconduct urged city officials yesterday to begin installing video cameras in police cruisers, an expensive project that the department said it intends to gradually undertake as money becomes available.

In a report to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), the D.C. Council and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, the independent, five-member Police Complaints Board said cameras used to record traffic stops and other police activity would increase officers' accountability while also protecting them against false allegations of wrongdoing.

"In the past decade, several police departments around the country have adopted programs using mobile video recording technology, or video cameras, mounted in their police cruisers," the report said.

"Although the programs initially encountered some resistance as 'big brother' oversight, departments with successful programs report that video cameras have cut down on litigation and liability costs, as well as improved relationships between officers and citizens during encounters."

Maryland and Virginia state police and several big suburban departments in the Washington area have equipped all or many of their patrol cars with cameras. But as the report notes, for a department the size of the District's, with about 750 cruisers, the cost would run into the millions of dollars.

"The cost of the hardware ranges from $3,900 to $6,300 per car for cameras that do not have wireless uploading capability," according to the report. Cameras that are capable of wireless uploading cost $4,500 to $9,000 apiece, depending on other technical features that are included. In addition, there are costs for installation, officer training and data storage.

The report urges the department to begin with a pilot program of cameras in 75 to 150 cruisers. As more money becomes available from the city or through outside grants, the department will move toward installing cameras in all cruisers, the report said.

"It catches law violations on film, creates an objective record of encounters between officers and citizens, and serves as an evidentiary tool in court for both criminal and civil cases," the report says.

Assistant Chief Patrick A. Burke, a member of the complaint board, said the department favors equipping cruisers with cameras but will not be doing so soon.

"One of the chief's priorities has been to implement technology for officers," he said, citing the installation of computers in patrol cars. "So incrementally, we'd like to push for more of a presence of in-car video surveillance as well."

Burke added: "The major issue is obviously the budget. These can be some expense. But we're exploring some grant-funded opportunities for the cameras."

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D), chairman of the public safety committee, said he favors installing cameras. But he said the committee has had no substantive discussions with police officials about the idea.

Kristopher Baumann, chairman of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, the union representing D.C. officers, said the union does not object in principle to video cameras in cruisers. But he said some details of the implementation would have to be negotiated.

The installation of cameras in Montgomery County police cars has been stalled by union objections to some aspects of the plan. An arbitrator ruled in favor of the county, but the union, FOP Lodge 35, has filed a court appeal.

Police officials in Prince George's, Arlington and Fairfax counties said most of their cruisers are equipped with video cameras and that more cameras will be installed in the future.

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