More and more police cruisers in Utah are equipped with dash cams. Not every city in Utah has them, but almost every Utah Highway Patrol cruiser does. Each city varies a little on when they record. Some record all the time, others only when police officers turn it on, and others turn on automatically when the police sirens or emergency lights are engaged.
For me and my clients, I prefer if the recording is always active. There’s no chance of someone intentionally turning it off or forgetting to turn it on. Cameras that wait until a police officer turns on the emergency lights offer too little too late; a jury or judge can never see what caused the officer to pull someone over. Often a client in a DUI or drug possession type case contends that the police officer was never justified in pulling them over in the first place. People accused of driving under the influence are not often trusted by judges so when they say that they were not speeding or weaving, their testimony is given little credit. Incidentally, dash cams do not always work in the defendant’s favor, and they corroborate what the police officer reported. In those situations, the dash cam is valuable, because there is concrete evidence that everything the police officer is saying is true, and I can push for a defendant to take a plea instead of wasting time or money pursuing the case further.
The quality of the pictures continues to get better. It is likely that most people have seen dash cam footage on news broadcast or news magazines and had difficulty telling what is happening in the video. The low resolution, grainy videos give officers license to describe a video however they want. The officer can say, “It’s difficult to see, but right there, the defendant swerves.” All the judge or jury can see is a couple of taillights moving along the road, and the officer gets the benefit of the doubt.
High resolution videos today are better, and combined with microphones on many officers’ belts, we know exactly how a conversation between a suspect and an officer transpired. Even at night, the better cameras today clearly show the lanes, street signs, and other obstacles. Juries can clearly see that an officer is lying, or at least embellishing. Often an officer uses jargon in their police report. Almost every DUI report mentions a few things: the person smelled strongly of alcohol, they stumbled, they spoke slowly and slurred their speech. While we still can’t smell what the officer smells, the tapes sometimes show a lack of stumbling or drunken speech.