30 percent of Prince George's County police car dash-cams not working

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Prince George's County police defended their patrol car dash-cam program even though 30 percent of the more than 1,000 cameras don't work.

Police began mounting cameras on the dashboards in their cruisers 15 years ago to record video and audio of traffic stops. But along the way, the ever-changing technology and a tight budget forced police into making some tough decisions that has left the department without about 300 of its cameras.

In the last 15 years, Prince George's County police have had to transition from a dash-cam system recorded on video tape to a system recorded on DVDs to a system now recorded on hard drives.

The hard drive system, made by Panasonic, works just fine -- with two cameras recording what the officer sees on the outside and inside of the vehicle.

When the cameras malfunction, they can be repaired.

But the system giving the cops fits is the one recorded on DVDs. It is obsolete and repairing them has become extremely difficult.

"Some of them don't power on," said Prince George's County Police Capt. Bill Alexander. "Some of them power on, but don't record or have recording errors. Some of them record, but have audio-related issues."

The cameras are permanently installed in the cruisers, which forces the department into a tough choice.

"By the end of 2015, we hope to close the gap from about our 70 percent now to much closer to 85 or 90 percent," said Alexander. "Having said that, we recognize that at the end of 2015, we will not have every single cruiser with an operational camera by virtue of the fact we just can't be fiscally irresponsible and invest $5,000 or $6,000 into a car that probably is not worth itself $5,000 or $6,000."

The department began auditing the cameras in the cars after Officer Brennan Rabain was killed in March. The officer was off-duty driving his girlfriend home when police say he tried to stop a speeding driver.

He turned on his emergency lights, which should have activated his dashboard camera, but the camera didn't work.

It left investigators without valuable video evidence that may have helped in catching the driver the officer was attempting to stop.

There is no other police department in the Washington D.C. area that has nearly the number of dashboard cameras that Prince George's County police have.

D.C. police have none and just recently started a pilot program with body cameras.

Capt. Alexander said Prince George's County police will begin a body camera pilot program of its own in the coming months.