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Police Car Hoods Up, Cameras Can't Shoot?

Shakeva Frazier

At a time when tensions between police and the communities they serve, often heat up quickly, good communication can help lower the temperature.   That’s what happened in Danville when a story began circulating about police cars seen around town with their hoods up. It got people wondering whether that was being done to block the cars’ dashboard cameras.

With the issue of transparency and accountability by law enforcement at the top of the public agenda right now, a parked police cruiser with an open car hood looks like a literal barrier between cops and the community. Lt. Mike Wallace is the Public Information Officer for the Danville Police Department. He says the open car hoods were an attempt to keep the cars from overheating and actually melting wires and switches when they were idling for a long time. 

“And it was several days we’d have to take a car off line and have them repaired and it was costly. I think it ended up costing around 16- thousand dollars before it was all over with, fixing these parts.”

He says they tried adding coolant to the engine and a vent to dissipate the heat, and the hood up was part of that remedy.

“In no way, form or fashion were the hoods raised in order to block the cameras in our patrol cars. We (also) have body worn cameras functioning when ever they get out of the car.”

But when a photo of a patrol car with its hood up in Danville went viral on social media, it sparked concern about what might be going on.

Ebony Guy is with the Danville Chapter of Virginia Organizing, a non-partisan group that focuses on quality of life for communities.

“Once something goes viral you can’t control peoples' thinking. There were a couple of people who thought the story was fake.  You know, we do have eyewitness accounts of the hoods being up, but the picture that went viral was from a separate event. It wasn’t a routine traffic stop or anything like that, it was an isolated event and that issues has been addressed, but it is a real issue.

Again Lt. Mike Wallace:

“There comes a time when for transparency and to maintain those relationships with the community you have to say you know what? I hear what you’re saying. We’re not going to do it. We didn’t for see this being a problem. Obviously it is, so we’re not going to do it. I don’t think it’s a problem but it’s a perception problem.”

Now that the weather is cooling down, that gives the department a window to work on a fix.  Virginia Organizing’s Ebony Guy says her group has had good communication with Danville police in public and private conversations for the last 5 or 6 years and when the community voiced its concern, they responded.

“We do appreciate Danville city for addressing the issue in such a swift manner and I think what has happened, more importantly, is that the community has learned the power of their voice. So I think it just brought up awareness, which is a good thing when you’re trying to bridge the gap between community and law enforcement. And with Virginia Organizing and, me personally, we’re not anti-police, we’re pro community. So we always look for opportunities between law enforcement and the community as far as transparency and accountability.

Discussion of this issue will continue at a Danville City Council Meeting October 4th.

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