Because of their concerns about the way Lawrence Police Department does some interrogations, members of the Douglas County Bar Assn. are urging the department to install video and audio recording devices in police vehicles to record interrogations.
"When disagreements come up over what happened, it makes sense to say, 'Well, OK, let's go to the video,'" said defense attorney Elbridge "Skip" Griffy. "But in Lawrence, there's no video to go to - it's he-said-she-said, unless there happened to be other witnesses around."
The Kansas Highway Patrol, Douglas County Sheriff's Department and Kansas University's police department all use video and audio recording equipment.
Olin said that until recently he had resisted installing video and audio equipment because of the cost - the units run about $5,000 per car, he said - and because they require an officer to position the police car squarely behind the vehicle that's been stopped.
For safety reasons, Olin said, Lawrence officers position their cars at an angle.
But in the coming weeks, Olin said, the department's traffic unit will be getting seven new cars, each equipped with video and audio recorders.
"We'll see how it works," Olin said. Installing the equipment in all of the cars would be "cost prohibitive."
The traffic unit has a total of 23 cars.
Olin said officers did record some statements and confessions. But it's impractical, he said, to record routine interviews and interrogations.
"We conduct a huge number of interviews," he said.
Olin said he doubted that adopting a written consent form, as has been requested by the Douglas County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, would settle many disputes over an officer's actions.
"I don't think this would be of great value in helping us on the street," he said.
Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney said she'd welcome access to video recordings of in-city traffic stops, and she thinks the consent forms would prove useful. But, she said, neither is required by law.
She declined comment on whether Lawrence police should use consent-to-search forms.
"That's a policy question," Kenney said. "That's something that ought to be taken up with them."
Kenney said she thought the police were "doing a great job."
Dave Teeter, marketing representative and spokesman for Kustom Signals Inc., one of the nation's largest makers and sellers of police-car video equipment, said police did not have to park squarely behind a vehicle for the units to work.
"Parking at an angle is a common practice," Teeter said. "It's not a problem, the cameras can be adjusted 180 degrees."
Low-end units, he said, sell for less than $4,000.
Teeter said the Lawrence Police Department was the only "high profile" department in Kansas that didn't already have in-car video equipment.
"Kansas City and all the suburban departments, Wichita, Hutchinson, Salina - they all have them," he said.
Other police departments that have resisted video recording devices. One of them is the Los Angeles Police Department, Teeter said.