In the last several years, we have seen many incidents recorded on police department body and dashboard cameras. As technology and expectations advance, and costs go down, we will likely see all local law enforcement using body and dashboard cameras to record interactions with the public. Currently, the use of such technology is erratic as states and localities grapple with implementing the technology and establishing policies governing issues such as privacy and the availability of videos to the general public. In some states, videos without sound may be permissible. In other states recordings made without the consent of the other party may be prohibited under certain circumstances or where expectations of privacy exist. Some states restrict public access to the recordings. Only recently have officers in the Fairfax County Police Department begun wearing body cameras.
There is no question that the use of dashboard and body cameras can provide evidence in support of criminal charges. However, they can also provide defenses to criminal charges and may provide evidence of police misconduct. A major consideration is the use of such recordings in civil cases. When the Police respond to the scene of an accident, they may record vital physical evidence, statements and admissions from at fault parties and witnesses, and other evidence to support a civil claim. It is therefore extremely important to consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible after an accident in order for the attorney to begin an investigation to discover and preserve crucial evidence. The existence of dashboard and body camera footage may not be immediately apparent to those involved in an accident. And the footage may not be automatically uploaded and stored for long. Policies regarding such technology can vary from state to state and from locality to locality. At Weiner, Spivey & Miller, the attorneys and staff will, immediately seek out such videos and request access and/or preservation of the videos.
In a recent case, the attorneys obtained Police body camera videos from a local Police Department which depict the scene of a severe accident shortly after it occurred. The body camera videos show the at fault driver and recorded audio statements from the driver as to how the accident occurred. The videos also recorded an independent witness describing how the accident occurred which contradicted the at fault driver. This type of evidence can be lost if not pursued quickly after an accident. More often than not, within a short time after an accident police officers discard their field notes which also may contain the identities of independent witnesses. It is crucial for attorneys to stay on top of this new technology and to protect their clients by identifying and preserving available evidence.