Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 7, 2013

Editorial: Greater priority to in-car videos

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck ... then it must be a coincidence.

Traverse City residents likely can’t help wonder how it is that the video camera in the police car being used by the Traverse City Police officer who pulled over Mayor Mike Estes Oct. 23 was malfunctioning. Estes pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge of driving while impaired.

It’s even more incredible that the tape from a backup car that might contain shots of the scene wasn’t available for almost two weeks because the only officer with the password to the system was out of the office.

That’s worth repeating — apparently, only one officer in the entire department knows the password to the computer and he was unavailable. Why that officer couldn’t be reached by telephone, email or twitter wasn’t clear. If he had been on the International Space Station, no problem.

Why there isn’t a backup officer who also knows the password — or a place where the password is kept so someone in authority can get to it — is also unclear. What is clear is that it should be unacceptable.

Are we to believe that if a backup car had possibly captured tape of a shooting or some violent crime the public would have to wait until someone got back from vacation or wherever to see the tape? Let’s hope not.

Estes never contested what had happened, so seeing the tape of his arrest was likely not crucial. But what if he had? What if he had claimed entrapment or that he was physically assaulted?

Police said the video camera in the car in question had been malfunctioning before the Oct. 23 incident. The in-car cameras are constantly running and record footage when patrol vehicles activate their lights. The camera in the arresting officer’s vehicle had trouble automatically downloading its footage days before Estes’ arrest, police said, and the officer just turned it off.

No system is perfect, and mechanical things break down. But the point of having in-car cameras is to provide a record of an arrest to protect officers from bogus claims and individuals from police misconduct. But the system is useless if the cameras don’t work; getting them immediately fixed when they don’t must be a priority.

And having backup access to the machines is just as important and can’t be dependent on just one person.

As is turns out the cameras didn’t matter — this time. But sooner or later, they will, and the public has to be able to trust that the system works.