Prince George's County to Replace Police Dashcams After Audit Shows 30 Percent Not Working - NBC4 Washington

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Prince George's County to Replace Police Dashcams After Audit Shows 30 Percent Not Working

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    News 4 Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins reports on how the county's police department is responding to an audit that found 30 percent of its police dashboard cameras are broken. (Published Thursday, June 25, 2015)

    An audit of all Prince George's County patrol cars equipped with dashcams revealed only 70 percent of the patrol fleet had fully functional cameras.

    Many of these dashcams, which are mobile video systems, weren't working, and the parts needed to repair them have been out of date. 

    Dashcam failures can be a huge issue when it comes to documenting police interactions, so the cameras will be getting an upgrade from DVD-based cameras to hard drives, which use WiFi to download the videos directly to police servers.

    Transparency is one of the reasons why police support these cameras, they say.

    "It's really important to the chief, Chief Magaw, that we are able to we show our community what it is that we're doing, how our officers are interacting with the public," Prince George's County Lt. Bill Alexander said.

    Dashcams have also been helpful in investigations. 

    But after Officer Brennan Rabain was killed earlier this year, after losing control of his squad car while in pursuit of a speeding vehicle, police discovered his dashboard camera hadn't been working.

    "During the course of that investigation, we realized that he has an in-car camera that does not activate at the time he turns on his lights," Alexander said.

    That meant police had no video showing the suspect's vehicle, or how Rabain responded.

    "No one is more disappointed when we, during the course of an investigation, go to get that video and we learn the camera in question was not operational," Alexander said.

    It turned out that Rabain, who was off-duty while driving his squad car, had an elevated blood alcohol level at the time of the crash. It's not believed that had an effect on the crash, but there's no telling what having a working camera might have shown or prevented.
    The county's new high-tech cameras will also be useful in police training, by showing real-world examples of how police work in sometimes violent situations.

    "Being able to utilize real-world scenarios, officers encountering subjects who are sometimes violent, reacting in ways we might not be expecting, those are valuable, valuable training tools for us," Alexander said.

    The dashcam audit was completed in April, after nearly a month of work. Its primary goal was determine how many of the cameras worked properly and how many didn't.

    The changeover to new cameras will happen gradually. As Prince George's County replaces its police cruisers with new ones, it will also replace the cameras.