In a recent story, Fox 13 News reported that, according to UHP officials, DUI arrests are up 40 percent in Salt Lake County between 2008 and 2009. Now, that’s a lot! However, the most interesting quote in the story seems to be that “The UHP said its numbers are for arrests only and do not track convictions or aquittals.” Are there really that many more people drinking and driving? Or is something else behind this dramatic increase in DUI arrests? Could it be that UHP is arresting more innocent drivers and charging them with DUI?
Over the past year, our office has seen an increased number of what I refer to as “close-call arrests”—and more flat-out bogus arrests. Just within the past couple of months, I have had two DUI cases dismissed on the basis that the UHP trooper who made the DUI stop lacked a reasonable justification to do so. In one case the arresting trooper claimed to have made the stop on my client because she allegedly failed to signal when moving into a right turn lane; however, the video from the trooper’s on board video camera revealed that the client’s signal had blinked at least five times before she ever moved to the right turn lane. That case was dismissed by the prosecutor without even having to argue the motion to suppress we had filed. In another case the trooper claimed that my client had been weaving significantly within his lane, had crossed over the dotted line by over a foot, and then failed to signal before making a move into the left-hand turn lane. Once again the video revealed otherwise. The video in this case clearly showed that my client’s vehicle was not weaving, as the trooper had described, never crossed the fog line, and the driver’s signal had blinked at least four times before he moved into the left turn lane. In the words of the Judge, “I’m just not seeing any violations here.” The Judge then granted the motion to suppress, and the case was dismissed.
Thankfully for both of these clients, the new digital recording systems being installed in most UHP cruisers have the ability to go backwards and capture approximately 20 to 30 seconds worth of video prior to the officer turning on his overhead lights, which activates the camera to start recording. In my opinion every police officer should have a video camera in his patrol car, and the video should run the entire time the officer is on shift. If the officers are doing their job correctly, they should have nothing to hide. And it would protect both innocent drivers from illegal traffic stops and arrests, as well as provide the officers with airtight evidence to support their actions (if they are supported by the evidence in the first place).
According to my research it costs approximately $5000 to install a video camera in a patrol car. Many police departments claim that the reason they don’t have video cameras in patrol cars is that they don’t have the financial resources to install and maintain them. But in reality, the installation of video cameras would save money in the long run by avoiding costly litigation in many cases. For example if a video of an arrest prevents one single case from going to trial—either because the prosecutor can see that the officer made a mistake or the defendant can see that the video will not help his case—by avoiding one single jury trial, the camera would most likely pay for itself by the time you calculate the cost of the court, the judge, the clerk, the 25 or so jurors, the prosecutor, and overtime for the police officer to conduct the trial.
More important than the cost savings benefits that result from the use of videos in law enforcement vehicles is the prevention of innocent citizens being arrested and sometimes convicted of crimes they did not commit.