Police board examining use of video cameras in patrol cars

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some police officers have not been using their patrol cars' video cameras, and the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners wants to know why.

Commissioners discussed the cameras at a business session on Monday.

The video systems, which were installed two years ago in most police cars, are designed to automatically turn on when officers activate their red lights and sirens. Officers must manually turn on the microphone to record sound.

The systems are aimed at reducing false complaints.

Community members told the police board last month that officers sometimes forget to activate the cameras, potentially losing evidence in complaint cases.

The board then asked for a review of the video system.

The Office of Citizen Complaints, a civilian agency that takes complaints against officers, reviewed 142 complaints taken since November and checked whether video and audio were available. There were no recordings in 54 cases, the study showed. Of the remaining 88 cases that had video, 21 had no audio.

Technical difficulties

Those cases may mean officers did not follow policy, but technical problems also may be to blame, police said. The microphones, for example, pick up sound only when the officer is within 500 feet of the patrol car.

Police board member Stacey Daniels-Young said the figures raised concerns.

"We're running around telling everyone these cameras automatically come on, and we need to know if we're not accurate," she said. "If we find there are not legitimate reasons for this, we are going to ask the command staff, 'What are you going to do about it?"'

Board President Karl Zobrist said the data presented Monday did not eliminate the concerns that officers selectively use the camera system.

Pearl Fain, director of the complaint office, said she hoped to present a more comprehensive report at the board's next meeting on Oct. 31.

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