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Police record traffic stops for evidence and protection

Published April 25, 2014
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The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

If you’re planning to fight a traffic ticket, there are a few facts about police procedure and equipment you should be aware of —based on my ride-along with York Regional Police.

First, your licence is scanned and tickets are computer printed in the cruiser, so typos and date/time/location errors are unlikely. Licence checks take only seconds, and a licence photo can be electronically retrieved in case a suspended or wanted driver claims to be someone else. Insurance status can also be verified via computer.

With York Regional Police, everything is recorded. Each cruiser has a dash camera that’s always on, but only when the officer activates emergency lights or pushes the record button does it retain the previous 30 seconds of footage, plus everything thereafter, until the lights or button are turned off.

If you committed a traffic violation in view of the dash-cam, it should have been recorded on video for court purposes (as long as the officer activated the equipment promptly).

Officers also carry wireless microphones to capture any dialogue with drivers. Motorists are told on approach that everything is being audio and video recorded.

Cruisers also have interior microphones to record conversations with anyone at the window, seated inside for questioning, or being transported after arrest.

This electronic monitoring provides an audio and video record of each traffic stop, starting from the violation caught on video right through your entire interaction with police.

Since the complete event can be reviewed on video, this cuts down greatly on court challenges and unfounded complaints against officers (or offenders).

Each cruiser continuously transmits its GPS position to headquarters, so every movement can be accounted for.

None of this information is meant to discourage legitimate complaints. Rather, it’s a warning that false allegations can be disproved, and that the GPS and audio/video recordings can be used as evidence if charges of public mischief result from a vexatious complaint against police.

On the flipside, such recordings would also be the best evidence of impropriety or questionable activity on the part of an officer. Recordings can’t be erased from the cruiser.

Likewise, the police video may, at times, exonerate an alleged violator (for example, if someone cut you off causing you to swerve).

Police realize that vehicle occupants or passers-by will often video record them. The police video aims to ensure the full story is documented, rather than an out-of-context or incomplete clip posted on Youtube.

Email your non-mechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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