OXFORD – Last week, when one of his officers pulled over a suspected drunk driver, Oxford Police Chief Richard Nolan said he wasn’t worried about the case.
During the 25-minute traffic stop and sobriety test, while the suspect was intermittently confrontational and slurred incoherent complaints, the officer was polite and sympathetic.
The man failed to complete any of the balancing sobriety tests and uncontrollably trembled in his steps while trying walk a straight line. The suspect forgot his instructions and laughed at his own inability to remember them for more than a minute at a time before asking the officer to repeat the orders for a fourth time.
Each time the policeman slowly repeated himself and gave the man a fair chance to complete the tests before eventually announcing to the suspect that he believed him to be intoxicated.
Nolan knows this is how things unfolded and he isn’t concerned because the entire scene was captured on DVD by an in-car camera and a microphone in the officer’s pocket. Watching the video, he hears almost every word that was clearly spoken – or slurred.
From the police station in the Village of Oxford, Nolan reviewed the tape with the officer in the video, Ronald Martin, pointing out different aspects of the incident in a sort of post-game review.
Nolan says he and his officers often use the videos as learning tools so they could improve their performance and professionalism. He notes that the officers are well aware they are being automatically recorded.
He has few critiques for Martin, who allows the suspect to call a friend to drive his car from the scene instead of towing the vehicle. Throughout the video, he offers the man a number of other courtesies so long as he is respectful to the officer.
After pulling the man aside, Martin then searches the vehicle. The video clearly shows him placing three 16 oz. cans of beer on top of the car’s roof from the interior. One is apparently missing from the pack, but no empty container is found.
As Martin watches the video, he isn’t worried about the chief’s observations. He’s more concerned with how a jury would see the recording.
“Especially in a lot of small towns, like ours, there is usually only a single officer on duty, or at least only one in a patrol car. Having a camera out there in those situations is invaluable. It’s a silent partner that can offer an undeniable window of proof,” he said.
“After arresting an intoxicated defendant along some late night road, who’s being belligerent and abusive, you barely recognize them when you see them in court. They show up in a suit, sober and with a clear mind. A jury isn’t out there with us when we arrest them, so that’s the only impression they get. Not anymore,” said Nolan.
Two weeks ago, Nolan, who serves on the Chenango County Traffic and Safety Board, supervised the installation of four new in-car cameras paid for by the Stop DWI Program.
The money is collected from local law enforcement in drinking and driving related crimes and is then dispersed among area courts and police departments which use the money for various equipment upgrades and maintenance, including the new cameras...