A new Dallas police team will begin regularly reviewing footage from cameras in police squad cars as a way to monitor how officers do their jobs, according to a report published in the Dallas Morning News.
Dallas is thought to be the first major police department to create a unit devoted to auditing dashboard camera video. The videos have played an increasingly crucial role in protecting officers falsely accused of wrongdoing, or proving misconduct when officers themselves are in the wrong.
"The community's confidence in the police department is so precious and fragile, anything we can do to ensure that officers are doing what we expect is vital,” said Police Chief David Brown. "It's important to create trust and confidence that we will police ourselves," he added.
Policing experts lauded the creation of a DVR Review Team, while some officers, including the head of the city's largest rank-and-file police officer association, are greeting the new reviews with skepticism, the newspaper reports.
Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the new review procedures are simply more evidence of the department playing “Big Brother.”
"It's definitely going to lead to witch hunts," he said. The message it sends to officers is "to do the very bare minimum because if you go out there and be a hardworking, aggressive officer, you are going to get jammed up. You're going to get disciplined for it."
However, Sam Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the author of 11 books on policing, criminal justice and civil liberties, called the new review procedure a "wise proactive policy."
"Any employer should know what your employees are doing," Walker said. "The chief is to be commended for this. The message to the public is we care about you and want to provide the best-quality service and we are taking steps to ensure that."
In addition, Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminologist, said despite the fears of some rank-and-file police officers, many times dash-cam videos exonerate officers of misconduct.
"I think there's an impression that if you look at 100 of them, you're going to find a bunch of misconduct," he said. "But the most recent research I've seen shows that officers are doing the right thing at the right place at the right time."
Reviews of police cruiser video will include incidents where there is a higher likelihood of administrative violations or misconduct, such as police chases, resisting arrest cases, situations in which a prisoner has been injured, and when Tasers are used.
In addition, officers who have been placed in the department’s early intervention program for repeated misconduct will receive extra scrutiny. And rookie officers will be subject to additional reviews for six months after they complete their field training.
"We want to make sure that they are applying the training properly and to see whether we need to adjust something in our training processes," said Deputy Chief Randy Blankenbaker, Brown's chief of staff.
If Aulbaugh's team finds potential administrative misconduct, those allegations will be referred to internal affairs. Conduct that could potentially be criminal will be sent to the department's public integrity unit. Police will also identify areas where they can improve training or safety practices.
"You've got to make sure you're being fair to everybody, but you've also got to make sure that you're making it of value to the department," Aulbaugh said. "As we look at these, we're looking for opportunities for improvement. So if along the way, we spot behaviors that could discredit the officer or the department, we are going to deal with it. If we find behaviors that could bring credit to the department, we're going to commend those people."
Patrol supervisors have long been required to review footage of the officers assigned to them, but the department didn't have any parameters about how often that should occur. Recently, the department revised its policy to require them to review footage from each of their officers at least twice a month.