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Recordings help officers preserve evidence, false claims
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A trend within the law enforcement profession has been to outfit patrol officers with sound and camera recording devices for use during the course of their duties. It sounds like a simple concept, but it is not entirely free of complications.

The primary purpose of these recording devices is to help officers enhance their evidence collection capabilities, particularly in DUI cases, but they can be assistive in accurately documenting victim and suspect statements as well. Another reason police agencies are utilizing recording devices is to help disprove false allegations of police officer misconduct.

Insofar as using this technology for evidentiary purposes, I understand its value. But to use these devices to shore up police officer believability and community trust runs counter to the ideals of being a police officer. Clearly, there are police officers who act unprofessionally and there are those who have used excessive force or otherwise have violated the core behavioral and ethical standards of the police profession. But to, in effect, acquiesce to a notion that police officers cannot be believed and that they require recording devices to verify their word is, to me, is a sad commentary on what our society has devolved to.

Police officers are human, and like everyone else, they are faced with temptation and other urges that detract from their professional standards. But of the many thousands of officers in this state, it is only a small fraction of them that fail to live up to the highest standards of behavior and integrity. By outfitting all police officers with electronic devices for the purpose of trying to convince their skeptics is, in effect, an act of "throwing in the towel." Instead of working hard to gain and retain the public trust, we are tempted to take the easy way out by letting technology do the work for us.

Recording devices also bring with them many problems and complications. Like any piece of equipment, they are subject to failure. And as we have seen in some past criminal trials, a two-dimensional view of a situation can raise as many questions as it might answer. Moreover, most of these recording devices have a 1.5 hour storage limit, so they cannot be used continuously throughout an officer's shift. There will always be the new suspicions that are aroused when an officer forgets to turn the device on during a situation that is later questioned. Finally, there is also the cost issue. This kind of technology requires a substantial investment, not just for the devices, but also for the subsequent storage of the data and associated labor implications.

I see the difficulties of our times. I have been in law enforcement since 1973, which was a time when the police, for the most part, were trusted and seen as community role models. Since that time, things have slowly deteriorated. Over the years, we have seen many political leaders of this nation speak less than forthrightly or mince words (if not outright lie), it is not uncommon for many to misrepresent facts or otherwise act in a deceitful manner. Corporate behavior in many instances has also been similarly fraudulent, deceitful and, in some cases, outright criminal. It is no wonder that people have grown to automatically question authority with distrust and resentment. One can get the impression that our nation has a very large contingent of liars, thugs and criminals in the various positions of authority in both business and in public service. It is therefore understandable that some members of the public have a cynical view of persons in positions of authority and why, then, law enforcement leaders are seeking solutions to the problem. Technology is necessarily an obvious one for consideration.

Yet another point to consider is that many persons in positions of authority like political leaders or people in corporate leadership are not required to go through a background investigation of any kind. Police officers, especially those employed in California, are required to undergo an extensive background investigation. For most employing law enforcement agencies, these backgrounds include all aspects of their lives, including a review of the candidate's school years, neighborhood relations, finances, family, friends, organizational affiliations, military performance and other facets of their personal history.

For my part, I know that even in this agency, circumstances may one day force us to consider the use of recording devices as part of how we conduct our activities. But I am not ready to give up just yet. True, there have been gross leadership failures within the public service and corporate environment of this country that have cast a dark cloud over all people in positions of authority. These failures have made it so much more difficult for the good people of law enforcement, but I and the officers of this agency are not giving up. We will work that much harder to improve public trust and relations. We want to be believed at our word, and are committed to earning that trust which is critical to having an effective law enforcement agency.