May 04, 2023
Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense that poses a significant threat to public safety. In order to combat this problem, many law enforcement agencies are using body cameras to aid in DWI arrests.
In my career as a police officer, I’ve been recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) on numerous occasions for my successful efforts in combating impaired driving, also known as driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI). I worked the first part of my career in an agency without body cameras, and while the number of DWI and DUI arrests remained roughly the same for me year over year, I noticed that once we transitioned to using body cameras, the percentages of successful prosecutions increased. In short, the addition of body camera footage of the interaction led to more convictions or guilty pleas in my career.
One of the primary benefits of using body cameras for DWI arrests is that they provide objective evidence of the driver's behavior and condition at the time of the stop. Body camera footage can show the driver's physical appearance, demeanor, and behavior, as well as any slurred speech or other signs of intoxication. This footage can be used to support the officer's observations and help establish probable cause for the arrest. I know first hand that it can be difficult during a DWI investigation to maintain scene safety, instruct your suspect on how to perform field sobriety tests, watch your suspect perform those tests, and simultaneously note how your suspect performed on each of those tests so that you can write an accurate report at the conclusion of the interaction. Knowing that the body camera footage will be available after the stop to refresh an officer’s memory or dial in a sequence of events, the officer can be more focused on real-time safety.
In addition to supporting the officer’s observations of impairment, having body camera footage of the incident can also help protect the motorist against malicious prosecution and other acts of malfeasance by the police or a law enforcement agency. Due to the objectivity of video footage, if a motorist is stopped by the police and is arrested for DWI despite not showing any signs of impairment, that can be brought to the motorist’s defense in court.
The use of body cameras for DWI arrests can help to improve the overall quality and efficiency of police work. When officers have access to the footage of a DWI stop, they are able to write more detailed and accurate reports. This can help to ensure that the report contains all of the necessary information, including important details that may have been missed without the footage.
Additionally, body cameras can help to protect both the officer and the driver during a DWI stop. If a driver disputes the officer's account of the stop or the actions taken during the stop, the body camera footage can be used to independently verify what actually occurred. This can help to prevent false accusations and ensure that both the officer and the driver are protected from any unwarranted claims.
Another benefit of using body cameras for DWI arrests is that they can help to reduce the likelihood of DWI convictions being overturned due to insufficient evidence. When body camera footage is available, it can help to provide additional evidence to support the officer's testimony in court. This nearly ensures that DWI convictions are upheld and that dangerous drivers are held accountable for their actions. In many cases during my career, having the body camera footage of a DWI arrest has proven to be a giant success in the courtroom. Oftentimes, the defendant will review the body camera footage with his or her attorney and then realize that the evidence that they were intoxicated at the time of the stop is clear and convincing to anyone who may watch it, such as a judge or jury.
By increasing the likelihood of successful DWI arrests and convictions, law enforcement agencies can help to deter other individuals from driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When the public sees or hears of more and more DWI arrests and convictions than someone “getting off” or “beating the charge”, it may give them pause before deciding to drive under the influence. This inevitably prevents accidents and saves lives on the roads across the country.
In conclusion, the use of body cameras for DWI arrests is a positive development for law enforcement. It can provide objective evidence of the driver's behavior and condition at the time of the stop, protect both the officer and the driver, increase transparency and accountability in law enforcement, reduce the likelihood of DWI convictions being overturned, improve public safety, and improve the overall quality of police work. As such, it is important that law enforcement agencies continue to invest in this technology and that officers are properly trained on how to use it effectively.