As part of their duty to help protect drivers on the roads of the county, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers have implemented Mobile Video/Audio Recording Systems (MVARS) in 2,000 squad cars.
Sgt. Scott Payson, who oversees the Fallbrook and Pauma Valley patrols, said despite the recording systems, he requires all patrol officers to treat residents with the utmost courtesy.
“I ask them to treat each stop with the care that they would want their own family members treated with,” said Payson.
The MVARS have cameras that provide visual feeds from inside and outside the squad car once the sirens have been initiated, said Payson. At the end of each patrol, the CHP officer removes the DVD and logs it in to evidence.
The officers continue to wear their usual wireless microphones.
While some of the officers expressed concern about having their patrol stops monitored, the value of the recordings was soon made apparent.
“It’s worth noting that an extensive in-car camera study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police determined that cameras were found to present credible evidence, improve officer safety, as well as exonerate officers during citizen complaint investigations 93 percent of the time,” said Jaime Coffee, an information officer for the CHP.
There have been several occasions upon which an officer was falsely accused of misconduct during a stop, said Payson.
“However, when the individuals making the accusations hear that there is a video and audio recording of the stop, a large majority of them drop their accusation,” said Payson. “The officers saw that the MVARS could be used to help protect them with clear evidence from the stop in question. While we are not saying that each of our officers is perfect, this helps us strive toward perfection.”
The average life for each MVARS is about five years, said Coffee. While the entire CHP fleet could not be outfitted, the majority of primary enforcement vehicles from each CHP office have had the units installed, she said. Currently, motorcycle officers do not have MVARS.
The opportunities provided to the CHP officers by the MVARS do not merely include the evidence for criminal cases; the devices can also help document activities that risk the lives of the officers.
“On Oct. 1, an officer was shot, hit, and run over, but no one was around when the incident occurred,” said Payson. “The MVARS evidence was a tremendous help in our investigation.”
According to CHP officer Eric Newbury, the MVARS help officers be accountable for their actions.
“Our actions are clearly detailed on both video and audio footage now for accountability purposes,” said Newbury.
To comment on this story online, visit www.thevillagenews.com.