Video cameras taken out of Grand Junction police cruisers
Units costly to maintain, chief says; decision unfortunate, attorneys say
Citing a hefty replacement price tag, the Grand Junction Police Department last week removed all video recording technology from patrol vehicles in a move raising eyebrows among some local attorneys.
Police Chief John Camper said Monday the agency’s in-car video systems — which can yield indisputable evidence commonly used in court by prosecutors, defense attorneys or police agencies themselves when defending against misconduct allegations against an officer — were disabled Aug. 7 in what was largely described as a financial decision.
Camper said video recording systems in use for the past five years in Grand Junction were purchased under a grant. The equipment will no longer be supported by the manufacturer under warranty, while costs of purchasing new systems were estimated at $300,000, on top of $18,000 in yearly maintenance, Camper said.
“We recognize that in-car video can occasionally be useful to us, to prosecutors, defense attorneys and the media; however, we are unconvinced that the benefits justify such a significant expense,” Camper wrote in an Aug. 6 letter addressed to local attorneys.
Camper told The Daily Sentinel on Monday the systems used by Grand Junction police had been experiencing increasing instances of technical malfunction. The systems also have built-in limitations, he said.
“You’re talking about a narrow range of vision,” Camper said. “Video in many cases doesn’t accurately capture what an officer sees.”
Camper, in his letter, continues, “when one pairs those technological limitations with the ever-increasing cost to purchase and maintain the equipment, I am simply unable to justify spending large amounts of tax dollars on equipment with limited usefulness.”
The decision leaves the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department as the lone local agency still using the technology. Deputies have had in-car video since May 2006, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said. The Colorado State Patrol, Fruita Police Department and Palisade Police Department do not have the equipment.
Grand Junction’s decision already is facing scrutiny from local defense attorneys.
Attorney Gordon Gallagher said cases that might otherwise resolve quickly in the court system — as a direct result of in-car video evidence — will become more litigious and expensive to taxpayers.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Gallagher said. “Interaction between law enforcement and citizens should be recorded more, not less.”
Gallagher argues Colorado lawmakers should consider mandating law enforcement record their contacts with residents “whenever reasonably possible.”
“Anything we can do to give us more knowledge about a case is good for both sides,” he said.
Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said in-car videos can be particularly helpful in drunken-driving prosecutions, allowing, for example, a jury to watch roadside sobriety tests. They’ve also “been helpful” in reviewing excessive-force allegations against police officers, Hautzinger said.
Still, the DA said he doesn’t believe video evidence is integral to law enforcement.
“It’s nice-to-have, not need-to-have,” Hautzinger said.