In the world of law enforcement and public safety in general, to say that body cams and dash cameras are controversial is something of an understatement.
The activities of police officers around the country — including those they’d prefer to have gone unnoticed by the general public — have been a hot-button issue of late. Supporters of “body camera” programs around the country say that these technological assets help keep the public safe and make it less likely for officers to act outside the boundaries of their duties, especially in an era in which police violence is on the rise. The officers themselves often argue that having to use these devices sometimes makes it harder, not easier, for them to do what is ultimately the most important job of all: keeping our communities safe and as stress-free as possible.
But then again, sometimes a news story comes along that proves just how important these types of surveillance cameras really are. Such was the case with the Utica police department, in which one less-than-brilliant officer was recently caught in the act of planting evidence at a crime scene. While this type of conduct is certainly no laughing matter, the fact that he was caught red-handed by his own dash camera, of all things, is certainly something we should be allowed to chuckle at.
The Case of the Utica Police Department
At this point, police dash camera videos should be nothing new – it’s common to turn on the local news each night and see videos from similar sources of activities taking place in your area. What made one particular dash cam video unique, however, was the fact that an officer’s own cruiser caught him pulling a small baggie of … something … out of his pocket during a routine traffic stop.
A few seconds later he ducked into the car and emerged with — surprise, surprise — the baggie in tow. He then used that baggie, which presumably contained some type of drug or other illicit substance, as justification to arrest the suspect and impound his vehicle.
The officer would have gotten away with it, too, were it not for that meddling dash camera video.
The Utica police department quickly issued a response, but it did little to make the situation better. They argued that if you were to review the full video — which lasted about 30 minutes — you would actually see the officer finding the bag of evidence on the subject during the stop. The officer then placed it in his pocket so he wouldn’t forget where it was.
The argument of “you don’t understand, our officers were not planting evidence — they were mishandling evidence!” is a strange one, indeed.
Critics say that this dash camera video is another in a long line of incidents that show a systemic targeting of African-American residents throughout the Utica area. In one other example, Utica police officers kicked in the front door of an African-American woman’s home without a warrant. They then swarmed through the home but insisted they weren’t actually conducting a search while they “waited for the warrant to arrive.”
According to local newspapers, the Utica police department is currently conducting an “internal affairs investigation” into the incident. The video has also been sent to the FBI for review.
Regardless of which side of the fence you come down on concerning the dash and body cam issue — whether you think they’re a good thing or you think that they make it more difficult for police to do their jobs — one thing is certain: Police officers who are going to either plant evidence on a suspect or grossly mishandle the evidence they previously found should make sure they’re not being recorded. It’s probably not going to work out the way they think it will, and these days, it will certainly live on the internet for all time.