Nine police officers in Lakeland, Florida lost one or two shifts as punishment for dangerous driving and tampering with evidence. The only reason they’re in any trouble at all is they blew past an employee of the state Attorney General’s office.
Nobody was supposed to know. The Lakeland officers inserted full memory cards in their dashcams to keep their high speed road trip off the record. Then they formed a convoy of police SUVs and thought nobody would notice.
Erasing evidence to avoid investigation would be a crime (“resisting an officer without violence”). Is preventing recording with intent a crime? I’ll leave that question to the Florida prosecutors. Hopefully one of them will think the incident deserves more than a $200 loss of pay. At least a speeding ticket is in order. A New Jersey state trooper lost his job and was sentenced to community service in 2013 for obscuring his license plate while in an illegal high speed convoy. You would be in jail, but it’s still a much harsher sentence than most police get.
If the government cares about its speed limits, the technology is available to keep the government’s cars within its speed limits. State-owned cars could be governed to 70 mph, the highest speed limit in the state. Want to go faster? Turn on lights and sirens. Modern navigation systems know the speed limit almost anywhere.
Like speeding, evidence tampering is also business as usual. Police dashcams fail more often than law-abiding civilians’.
We have a rule in Massachusetts. When police interview a suspect in custody they are supposed to record the conversation. If they don’t, the judge must tell the jury “you should weigh evidence of the defendant’s alleged statement with great caution and care.” Even honest witnesses are error-prone.
Importantly, the rule has no exceptions. If “the recorder failed”, jurors will hear the same warning. If it really honestly did fail, jurors will hear the same warning.
An inoperative dashcam should be treated at least as seriously as other spoliation of evidence. It’s not hard to test a camera at start of shift. It’s not hard to live stream video back to headquarters. If there is no video, somebody doesn’t want the video.
I do have an ulterior motive beyond sorting out the “protect and serve” types from the “joyride and steal” types. If government employees had to obey traffic laws, they might start thinking about those laws. Will they remain calm when they encounter “traffic calming” stop signs? Will they feel safer driving 20 mph on a four lane road because there used to be a school a couple blocks away?
We can dream. In real life, most police officers and VIPs have de facto immunity, not an ethics watchdog making sure they don’t abuse their authority.
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