A 2019 study in the Michigan Law Review concluded that approximately 1 in every 7,000 traffic stops turns violent. A 2022 incident involving an Illinois State Police trooper illustrates how quickly and unexpectedly it can occur. The incident, in which the trooper is suddenly tackled while calmly talking to a suspect pulled over for speeding, was captured on the trooper’s police dash camera.
In the video, you can clearly see the suspect tackle the trooper and begin beating him. After a struggle in which the trooper’s own pepper spray is used against him, a passerby helps subdue the suspect. The suspect was later convicted and sentenced to 44 years in prison, in part because of the video evidence.
Police dash cams provide a blanket of safety for patrol officers, generate admissible evidence and allow for greater community transparency, among other benefits. And a growing list of features means police dash cams are more powerful and useful than ever.
Be sure to read The essential guide to law enforcement equipment for even more information about outfitting today's officers.
Benefits of police dash cameras
According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2016, nearly 70% of police vehicles had police dash cameras installed, and that number is growing. It’s not hard to see why. Police dash cams provide ample benefits to officers on patrol, prosecutors and the community.
The benefits of police dash cams include:
Safety: Police dash cameras help keep officers safe. A survey conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) concluded that 48% of police officers believe the mere presence of a police dash camera allowed them to de-escalate an encounter by simply pointing out to a subject that they were being recorded.
Training: In that same study, an “overwhelming majority” of the approximately 3,000 officers surveyed reported they use dash cam footage for self-critique. Officers will watch the footage back to determine if they could have conducted themselves better or better resolved a situation. This alone makes police dash cams an invaluable tool for training.
Transparency: As we can see from a number of police dash camera videos that have been made available to the public over the years, dash cam footage provides a valuable look into how police approach their duties. This helps with community transparency. The IACP surveyed 900 citizens from 18 states, and 94% reported approval of police dash cams.
Liability protection: Community complaints are an unfortunate reality of policing. However, the IACP reports that officers are exonerated 93% of the time when video evidence is available, making the presence of police dash cameras an active form of protection for law enforcement officers against false or misleading complaints.
Conviction: Police dash cameras also have evidentiary value, as illustrated by the case of the trooper from Illinois. Video footage of the incident served as admissible evidence and helped prosecutors gain a conviction.
Must-have police dash cam features
Not all police dash cameras are the same. For today’s modern, technology-driven police force, a dash cam should have the following features.
Automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) technology is decades old but gaining traction in law enforcement because it works well and makes officers’ jobs more efficient, helping to locate stolen vehicles, find missing persons and even solve crimes faster. ALPR, when paired with a dash cam, allows an officer to quickly scan vehicle license plates, access relevant databases and identify vehicles that have been stolen or are associated with drivers who might have active warrants. This not only makes it faster and more efficient for the officer to do their job, but it also reduces distractions and the need to take their hands off the wheel.
Grand Prarie, Texas, Police Department recently adopted the Axon Fleet 3 police dash camera, paired with Flock Safety fixed ALPR cameras, to help their officers patrol an area heavy with highways carrying approximately 1,000,000 travelers a day. The result was a safer community and a more efficient police force. Axon’s partnership with Flock makes implementing a network of mobile and fixed ALPR more effective and more affordable.
Another example of the power of ALPR at Grand Prairie Police Department involved a shooting at a local school. After the shooter fled, officers were able to circulate a description of the vehicle within minutes and, using ALPR, apprehend the suspect within hours. According to the department’s Sergeant Marcos Ferreira, without ALPR technology, the shooter might not have been apprehended.
Dual-view and interior cameras
A dual-view camera such as the one included in the Axon Fleet 3 system allows for capturing wide-angle video with its built-in 160-degree field of view camera and also ALPR data with its high-resolution 4k ALPR camera simultaneously. This provides a broader range of coverage, capturing more details, evidence and ALPR data at the same time.
An interior camera captures the interior of a police vehicle and any occupants, including a detained subject. Nightvision-enabled interior cameras render the interior of the vehicle clearly, even in low-light conditions.
Real-time data sharing
Modern police dash cameras can be paired with the software running on an officer’s mobile data terminal (MDT), allowing dispatchers and other first responders access to real-time situational data such as live maps, alerts and live streaming of the dash cam footage. This increases situational awareness during incidents and allows first responders to coordinate their efforts.
Officers involved in a high-speed chase might be able to view dash cam footage from other pursuing officers, allowing them to see location and other information at a glance. Meanwhile, dispatchers can view the totality of data streaming from all responding officers, greatly enhancing their ability to inform first responders and allocate resources.
When paired with Axon Evidence, or other police records management software (RMS), police dash cams provide the ability to quickly upload and catalog digital evidence. This results in reduced downtime for officers, increased shareability with prosecutors and other departments and, ultimately, higher conviction rates.
Incidents like this high-speed chase in Northern Virginia can be captured on video and used as evidence in an eventual trial. The dash cam videos in use by responding officers, in which the driver was recorded traveling as fast as 137 MPH, contributed to a conviction. The driver was sentenced to 4.5 years on three felony counts.
An integrated app like Fleet Dashboard provides a single source of information for alerts, ALPR reports, camera control evidence preview and other functions directly on the MDT. This allows the officer to control the camera and its recordings on the fly and without a separate control console.
Fleet Dashboard also performs the same functions as the Axon View mobile application for Axon Body and Flex cameras. This eliminates the need for a separate app to control separate cameras.
Automatic activation initiates dash cam recording when a vehicle’s light bar is switched on or a police vehicle achieves a certain speed. This ensures that the camera will be recording even if an officer is otherwise engaged.
Capturing clear audio could make the difference between admissible and inadmissible evidence. For example, the Axon Fleet 3 pairs with up to two available wireless microphones, faithfully capturing audio as much as 1,000 feet away. This provides the ability to clearly document what transpires when an officer leaves the patrol vehicle.
In this video showing the arrest of singer Zach Bryan, you can clearly hear the officer instructing Bryan to return to his vehicle and Bryan responding that he would prefer to go to jail. The officer had stopped Bryan’s security guard for speeding, and Bryan was cited with obstructing an investigation. In another video of the incident, you can hear what the same footage would sound like without the benefit of wireless microphones.
Body-worn camera pairing
A dash cam’s ability to pair with body-worn cameras like the Axon Body 4 means no evidence will get left behind. Pairing makes it possible to see multi-camera views in Axon Evidence, showing all of the angles of an incident and capturing them for later use.
The best dash cams can still capture crucial events even when they’re not recording. Axon Fleet 3 retains video, whether or not the camera has been activated. This ensures no evidence is missed and provides a blanket of assurance for communities monitoring police activity.
With Axon Video Recall, agencies can retrieve up to 24 hours of video from a unit in the event a recording was not initiated. The video can then be stored in Axon Evidence or another RMS, added to a case file and shared with other departments or prosecutors.
Police dash cameras are invaluable tools that can help ease the unpredictability of a law enforcement officer’s duties. Axon has been providing camera technology to law enforcement for almost 15 years and understands the multi-faceted role police dash cams play in modern law enforcement to make officers more efficient and capture invaluable footage.
To learn more about Axon Fleet 3 and how it can support your agency’s mission, contact Axon today.