Police in Phoenix will soon be wearing cameras to record their interactions with the public. This is very good news for our citizens and the criminal law as police misconduct is out of control in both Phoenix and the rest of the country. Police officers have, and will continue, to resist the efforts of those concerned citizens and elected officials who are pushing for more accountability. When you stop and think about it no good argument can be made for not having cameras; after all, cops often make claims that people resisted arrest or that they were justified in using force. Cameras will only help to substantiate these claims. But we know that the reason police departments resist having these cameras is because they are more likely to expose police misconduct than anything else. (There is a reason that the police in Arizona no longer have dashboard cameras: they removed them all because too often the recordings were used to successfully challenge the basis for DUI stops).
Unfortunately, police wearing cameras is not the end of the story for this to be good for criminal defendants. This is obvious, but police actually have to turn the cameras on for anything good to come of it. Over and over this is not the case. I can tell you personally that I have had cases from cities like Mesa (where camera use has been widespread for a while now) but have yet to have a case where there were actually any recordings. Even more disturbing are two recent cases from elsewhere in the country where the police used lethal force, were wearing these cameras, but they were turned off.
Time and time again I have clients who claim that they were not stopped for the reasons that are alleged (unsafe lane change, stopping in a crosswalk, etc.). Also most of my clients claim that they were grossly mistreated by the police. I believe my clients because they cannot all be lying, and too often we have seen these claims actually come to light (usually because a citizen records the police with their phone). Police misconduct is a serious problem. I am ecstatic that the Phoenix Police Department is taking this step. But I am not celebrating until I start getting tape recordings when I take on new cases.