SUPD to Implement Body Cameras
Police departments across the United States are implementing body cameras – compact audio and video recording devices that police officers wear and use to record contacts with citizens. The Georgetown Police Department, Williamson County Sheriff’s office, and Texas Highway Patrol have already begun using them. University police departments are beginning to use them as well, most notably UT Austin’s police department.
“There’s talk that it’s eventually gonna be federal law, and that all law enforcement agencies will have to carry these,” SUPD Chief Brad Dunn said. “Communities across the country are seeing dramatic decreases in complaints against officers, some up to 60%.”
The push for Southwestern Police to start carrying body cameras began with students in late 2015. Then, over the next year, SUPD worked closely with the Student Government Association to draft a policy that prioritized student privacy while increasing officer accountability.
Chief Dunn is fully in support of the body cameras.
“I like to call it a professional-meter,” Dunn said. “The officer knows that anytime they’re having any kind of contact with a student or community member, everything that’s being said is recorded. In my opinion, and in a lot of people’s opinion, that helps keep everybody as professional as they can be.”
One of the biggest issues surrounding the use of body cameras is privacy. Who can see the footage? Where will it be stored?
“When we were making up our policy, we looked at policies that basically had some of the strictest guidelines for storage and viewing of body camera footage,” Dunn said. “That’s what we implemented.”
SUPD officers will only record official contacts with students and community members. They will remain off during the rest of their shifts. At the end of their shift, officers will upload the footage to a secure cloud server. Footage can only be viewed by the officer who recorded the video, and by the Chief and Assistant Chief during random inspections.
“Once a month, I’ll go randomly pick somebody and I’ll pull up their video footage, and I’ll review it to see how they’re interacting with our community,” Dunn said. “If a complaint is received, from a student or any other community member, saying an officer was rude to me or I don’t like how they handled that situation, I would also pull the video coverage, review it with my assistant chief, and if there are grounds there that the officer did not conduct themselves like they should or was not professional, then it would be incumbent upon me to have a meeting with that officer and correct the behavior.”
Chief Dunn has been working to build the rapport between the students and his department. It’s an issue he takes very seriously, and makes sure the officers have the same priorities.
“We want to see every single student that comes to Southwestern walk across the stage, and we want to keep everybody safe in that process,” Dunn said. “I’m very proud to be the administrator of the police department, and I have high expectations for our officers. And that’s another reason why this [gestures at body camera] is important to me.”
SUPD plans to begin phasing in the body cameras towards the end of October and the beginning of November.