NJ State Trooper Feels The Best Part About The Required Dashcam Is The OFF Button

from the welcome-to-new-jersey,-here's-your-complimentary-beating dept

We've seen plenty of stories here dealing with law enforcement's general displeasure with having their actions captured on camera by citizens (with one rare, exemplary exception). An odd stance to take, considering most law enforcement officers are recording a majority of their interactions with the public — except when it's more convenient not to. Scott Greenfield runs down the details of another case where a state trooper's camera was used selectively to “throw out” incriminating evidence.

The virtue of having a video of police encounters has been proven over and over, whether because it belies the allegations of a crime or proves them. But then, sometimes the guy with his finger on the dashcam's “on” button may not want evidence of what is about to happen. Via NJ.com:

Allen Bass, 50, sued Trooper Gerald Dellagicoma and others in 2009, claiming they punched and kicked him multiple times, causing him to urinate on himself, after he complied with their commands to get off his bicycle at Ellis Avenue and Clinton Avenue in Irvington a year earlier.

[Bass] was riding his bike July 10, 2008, in Irvington when Dellagicoma and other troopers who were on patrol in the area got out of their patrol cars and ordered him to stop. Bass claimed he laid on the ground chest-down and spread his arms and legs.

Troopers allegedly then punched and kicked him before arresting him. Bass was charged with drug possession, resisting arrest by flight and resisting arrest by force, court documents show.

Ultimately, the charges against Bass were dropped because the officers failed to show up in court. That, in and of itself, doesn't necessarily indicate any sort of irresponsibility or maliciousness on behalf of the troopers involved. But one of State Trooper Dellagicoma's actions during the incident certainly does.

Court documents show Dellagicoma, who joined the force in 2001, failed to activate his patrol car camera and was suspended without pay for 30 days, but only served 15 days of that suspension.

And this wasn't an isolated incident.

Records show Dellagicoma was reprimanded several times prior to the incident for the same infraction.

In fact, Dellagicoma is named in another federal civil suit for basically the same actions:

In another federal civil lawsuit, Salah Williams of Newark, an African-American, claims he was a victim of racial profiling, excessive force and malicious prosecution when Dellagicoma allegedly assaulted, maced, arrested and charged him for no reason while walking near his store in the city… Similar to the Bass case, Dellagicoma also failed to activate his patrol car camera and appear in court, resulting in the dismissal of the charges against Williams.

This is a big problem. As Greenfield points out, New Jersey State Troopers are required to record every interaction with the public.

What makes this special is that in New Jersey, there is a requirement that arose from the racial profiling scandal that rocked the Turnpike, that all encounters with State Troopers be videotaped. The state was kind enough to put cameras in cruisers. Never again would a trooper be falsely accused of profiling a driver just because he was black. (This is known as the “black plus” theory of profiling.)

The bigger problem is the handling of those who choose to grant themselves exceptions to this requirement. The offense is treated as a minor infraction, punishable by a written reprimand or a short suspension — neither of which are severe enough to make troopers like Dellagicoma reconsider hitting the OFF switch when it suits them.

The only way an incentive system works is to make the cost of noncompliance greater than the cost of compliance. Apparently, a written reprimand and a few days suspension doesn't cut it. And when it happens repeatedly, it is clearly failing to serve as a deterrent. That's not good enough.

The efficacy of video depends on its actually being used, in every instance and including the entire encounter. Anything less reduces it to a game, where the police make the rules, and the rules will not be good for the other side.

Citizens aren't going to be on hand to record all of these interactions, although each passing day provides more and more documentation captured by the public, many of whom put themselves in harm's way to secure this footage. And it's a sign that the system is pretty screwed up if “recording the police” often equates to “putting yourself in harm's way.”

This single incident cost New Jersey taxpayers $50,000 and did more damage to the already-questionable reputation of NJ state troopers. All it cost Dellagicoma was a single paycheck, leaving him free to “fail to activate” his camera again and again as the situation suits him. 

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Comments on “NJ State Trooper Feels The Best Part About The Required Dashcam Is The OFF Button”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, when the ‘fine’ was just a reduction in the ‘bailout’ is it even a slap?

We were going to give you 10 bazillion dollars since you are too big to fail, but now we have to ‘fine’ you to show that we are ‘hard on crime’.

You will only receive 9.999999999 bazillion dollars in your bailout.

“Yes, maam, may I please have another?”

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

why is there an “off” button on the camera
system at all?

If there was no ‘off’ button, they’d just work around it. You’d end up having a ‘randomly’ placed coffee cup on the dashboard that just happens to block the view of the camera.

Or the cruiser will just happen to end up stopped so that the camera is pointing off to the side instead of at the car in front of the cruiser.

BeaverJuicer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Wouldn’t the smart thing be to hook the camera into the car battery, so as to prevent such a problem?

I suspect it is more likely that the Police Union demanded it to prevent recording of “private matters” that happen on the job. On occasion, we all have to make phone calls home, etc while at work. Even the police, while on the job, have the right to some form of privacy during those situations.

I recommend giving them a button to “redact” the footage by flicking a switch. Similar to commercial skipping technology in DVR’s. Don’t erase it, but mark it so that any normal monitoring of said footage would be “skipped” unless there was specific reason to go back and view it – such as a claim of excessive force.

bob says:

Re: batteries running out

I’m guessing they wired the camera into the cars electrical system. there’s plenty of battery.
I don’t know how much tape there is, but I would say it makes sense to make sure a tape can cover 2 shifts, and if there was any issue, the tape is turned in as part o the evidence at the end of shift, otherwise it is reused.
haha. tape..
hdd nowadays.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I agree. Personally, I think that criminal misbehavior by a police officer (on or off duty) should be automatically punished with a much greater level of severity than the same crime committed by an ordinary citizen. Cops are given extraordinary powers. They need to be held to an equally extraordinary standard of conduct.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re:

Most of the police cameras I have seen are actually turned on by activating the lights / siren, and then run until turned off or a set amount of time after the lights sirens have been turned off.

With current technology I would think they should have cameras running during the entire shift and the video stored for 30 days before overwriting. The technology exists, is cheap, and could even include a ‘cop cam’ worn by the officer connected via RF.

In fact, if the car is a take home car it should record off duty use too.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am thinking more along the lines of a ‘black box’ in an airplane. There really isn’t any need to keep hours and hours of footage that, in most cases no one cares about.

The number of hours depends on the storage method, resolution… However, police cars will not have the compression ratios that store cameras have because there is simply too much motion in the frame. This means it will take more space to store. Also you don’t want to use traditional hard drives in a car (especially not high capacity drives) the jarring and motion will result in premature failure.

30 days is enough time that requests could be made to hold onto the data, but not so much time that it would greatly increase the cost of the technology. Most security video is kept 7 or 30 days. (Yes there are many exceptions).

Now it might be a good idea that any actions taken by the officer in relation to charges be kept until that case has made it’s way through the court system. So for instance if a citation is issued, or arrest made that video is transferred to the court system and preserved until the case has reached it’s end.

But let’s face it, most of the time the video is not going to contain anything of value, and as such there is no need to keep it forever.

Argonel (profile) says:

Make suspensions matter

If each incident where he “forgets” to turn on the camera resulted in a mandatory 30 day unpaid suspension it might matter to the trooper. Of course the other half of that should be that troopers on suspension cannot trade on their membership in the state patrol for jobs. I.E. no moonlighting as a security guard or bouncer while on suspension. I’m not sure if acting as a stripper should count as taking advantage of their position as a trooper or not. If it actually hurts him in the wallet he may change his ways or he will have to start living out of his squad car.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Make suspensions matter

Suspensions are worthless. I just read a story today about an officer in Seattle (Shandy Cobane) who was caught on video saying he would “kick the (expletive) Mexican piss out of you” to a Latino man and then proceeded to kick him for no reason. He was given 30 days of no-pay, but then allowed to do overtime to make it up. Just recently he was rewarded by being put on a more prestigious unit, even though the public was told he would be demoted to patrol duty. The police chief said he wanted to fire him right after the incident, but a few months later when people were starting to forget about the story, he decided against it.

There is no punishment for police that isn’t eventually rectified by the people supposedly punishing them. They wait for the story to blow over, and then make it all good again. Police look out for other police long before they look out for the public. It’s why all cops get a deserved bad rap. They don’t need to be bad themselves, they just need to harbor the bad ones and pretend that they are still good.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Providing motivation

Want to give cops motivation to keep the cameras rolling while on the job? Make it so that if the camera is turned off, any statements/claims the police officer make are automatically considered false, while any statements/claims the suspect make are automatically considered true, as long as said statements are even remotely feasible.

Thomas (profile) says:

Just goes to show..

that the states always side with the cops. The cops firmly believe that they are above the law and should be able to do whatever they d*** well please. They always say “if you have nothing to hide..”, but they firmly believe that doesn’t apply to them. The “internal affairs” departments exist solely to absolve cops of misbehavior and/or recommend mild punishment for criminal action. Plus the police unions are even more firm that cops do no wrong.

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