Recently, I wrote a couple of columns about whether in-vehicle video systems are a good idea for the law-enforcement sector. The columns were sparked by a news item that reported that some Chicago police officers were balking at turning on the cameras in their patrol cars because they were afraid the footage might be used against them at some point.

I wrote that in-vehicle video systems are vital, because they provide additional evidence in many cases that could be used to put the bad guys away. I also opined that video is an officer’s friend, because it could exonerate an officer wrongly accused of a misdeed. Finally, I suggested that video is an effective deterrent to keep officers from violating department procedure or acting irresponsibly — or both — and to prevent any cover-ups of bad behavior.

As if to prove me right, the day after the second column ran, a Streamwood, Ill., police officer beat a DUI suspect allegedly without provocation. I’ve seen the video, which was captured by the officer’s in-vehicle system — you can too, as it’s been posted on You Tube — and to my untrained eye, it sure doesn’t look like the guy deserved the bludgeoning he received from the officer’s baton, which landed the suspect in the hospital with significant injuries, including a concussion, several stitches and multiple contusions, according to numerous media reports.

The Cook County (Ill.) State’s Attorney’s office didn’t think he deserved the smack-down either, issuing a statement that said the video “showed no evidence that the motorist or his passenger ever resisted arrest or presented any physical threat to the officer,” who was indicted on felony charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct.

Some will say in response to this incident that it is an aberration, a case of a bad cop or, perhaps, a good cop just having a really bad day. That could well be true. I believe that there are many more good officers than bad ones. But even good officers who are trying to do the right thing can get it very, very wrong. I know this from personal experience.

When I was in college, I worked at a gas station. This was well before self-service stations became the norm. I pumped gas, cleaned windshields and filled tires. Unfortunately, I had to work during the school year in addition to summer vacation, as my parents were in no position financially to foot the bill for my education. So, I went to class during the day, went to the gas station at night and spent my weekends catching up on my coursework.

One night, I had to stay late at the station, well past midnight. Because I had an 8 a.m. class that day, I jogged home. A few blocks from the house, I was stopped by several Chicago police officers, who were convinced that I had stolen a car and dumped it in a nearby park just a short time before. Apparently, I fit the description of the perpetrator. That, and the fact that I was running down a side street in the wee hours of the morning, cemented in their minds that I was the guy.

I told them my story, and gave them the phone number of the station and the name of the manager who could verify what I had told them. They would hear none of it. They were convinced that they had the right guy and insisted that I accompany them to the closest hoosegow so that they could question me further. I had a pretty good idea how that might go, so I hesitated.

Fortunately, this fiasco occurred directly in front of the home of one of my childhood friends, a family who knew me very well. Seeing me out there surrounded by at least a half dozen officers, my friend’s father strolled out in his underwear — which cracks me up to this day as this happened in the dead of a very cold Chicago winter — and, with no coaching from me, told the officers exactly what I had told them. He also suggested that they reconsider their position, which they did.

I shudder to think what might have happened had this situation occurred a block away from my friend’s home or if his father was a sound sleeper. At the very least, it would have been a giant hairball for me.

I’m not sure whether video, had it existed at the time, would have helped me on that evening. Perhaps the citywide system that Chicago now employs would have supported my alibi. We’ll never know. But I do know this: sometimes it’s very difficult for a police officer to know exactly what happened in a situation. When that’s the case, video can be a big help.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.