Investigations into two high-profile cases involving Cedar Rapids police officers will be conducted without the luxury of video and audio evidence that normally would have been available.
Twenty-one patrol cars, about one-third of the department’s fleet, are not equipped with working dashboard cameras as the department works through an upgrade it was forced to make. Officials said it will likely be two or three years before all the police cars have cameras again.
A patrol car without a camera was first on the scene Tuesday morning when Desirae A. Daniel, 27, of Cedar Rapids, was shot and killed by police after they say she pulled a gun after a police chase. As a result, police said there is no video footage of the shooting.
The same was true of the police car that transported Paul R. Saldivar, 33, of Cedar Rapids, to jail on the evening of May 10. Saldivar mysteriously stopped breathing in the patrol car and died a week later at a hospital. Police have said Saldivar was intoxicated and hit his head on an armrest, but conclusive findings about how he died have not been released.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has investigated the Saldivar case and is currently reviewing Tuesday’s officer-involved shooting.
DCI Special Agent in Charge Bill Kietzman said video footage can be very helpful during the course of an investigation, but said video footage is not “fool-proof.” He said two different people can look at a recording and come to different conclusions.
“Our bread and butter is still interviewing and our investigative techniques and talent,” Kietzman said. “On a typical case, a bad guy is not wearing a camera around.”
Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said there are no plans to put cameras in the 21 police cars that are without cameras. Instead, the cars will be taken out of service when they reach 135,000 miles and replaced with brand new patrol cars, which will have cameras pre-installed.
Officials said the alternative is to put a new camera system, which costs about $5,200, into a patrol car that is nearing the end of its life-cycle.
Police Chief Wayne Jerman said he agrees with the strategy that was decided before he arrived in Cedar Rapids, even if it means the absence of video evidence in some cases.
“When you operate under a budget, you have to adhere to it, because there’s only a certain amount of money,” Jerman said. “It’s not like you can walk into Best Buy and pick out a recording system for 20 cars that don’t have them. The system that has been determined that is fiscally prudent is that when the fleet purchases new squad cars, they come with cameras already installed.”
In total, the in-car camera upgrade project is expected to cost about $340,000. Traffic camera revenue will cover about half the cost, with the rest funded through the police department’s operations budget, officials said.
Police were forced to make the upgrade when the previous camera vendor, ICOP Digital, filed for bankruptcy. With malfunctions mounting and no technical support or repair parts available, officials made the decision in January to take the ICOP cameras out of service.
New Panasonic dash cameras were installed in a dozen patrol cars in about a month, and officials assigned those cars to officers likely to make the most traffic stops. Since then, the upgrades have been more gradual.
Seven new patrol cars are expected to be deployed in late January or early February, which will reduce the number of cars without cameras to around 14.
Lt. Walter Deeds, who is in charge of the dash camera project, said he and others involved in the project knew it would be a lengthy process and that there would be situations where potentially valuable video evidence would be missing.
Deeds said it takes at least a week to have the camera hardware and software installed in one of the older police cars, due to a variety of factors.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve missed video on a couple high-profile cases,” Deeds said. “But I don’t think that means we have a bad process, by any stretch of the imagination, because we’ve made tremendous strides at getting everything updated.”