Mandatory police body cameras, a hot topic in communities across the country, are coming to Queens University.
Body cameras for campus police officers will be arriving at Queens sometime in the next couple months, according to Associate Vice President for Campus Safety Ray Thrower. Campus police have received a federal grant to implement the use of body cameras for all officers and are waiting for the money to come to the state before it comes to their department, he said.
Body cameras have become a hot button issue due to recent controversial police incidents, including killings and charges of brutality.
Though they are just now coming under the national spotlight, body cameras are certainly not a new technology.
“It’s not anything new,” said Thrower. “The last department I was at, we implemented body cameras maybe nine years ago.”
Providing evidence will most likely be the most important purpose that the cameras will provide, Thrower said, recalling several disputes during which body cameras have been very helpful.
“I’ve seen a lot of cases where officers have been accused of something, you go back and look at the camera and it shows a totally opposite story,” said Thrower. “The camera just doesn’t lie.”
In addition to helping solve disputes after they have taken place, body cameras can provide preventative measures as well.
“It has been my experience that people behave better when they know they are being recorded by camera,” said Don Rousseau, a campus police officer at Queens.
According to Thrower, many people have assumed that the only use for body cameras would be to solve “he said, she said” disputes for controversial incidents involving police. But these body cameras can serve multiple purposes.
“We look at a body camera, not only for evidence,” said Thrower, “but also as a tool to assist officers. We use it as a training tool, but it’s an opportunity for us to make sure that the officers are following our policies, procedures, and expectations of being a police officer.”
There are certainly several benefits from having police officers wear body cameras, Thrower said. But, he added, the technology does have its drawbacks.
For example, the camera only captures a small window of what the officer sees. The camera’s vision is nothing compared to the human eye’s peripheral vision. If something happened in a split second that an officer saw out of the corner of his or her eye, the camera may not capture it.
Another drawback is that technology does not always work perfectly all the time, Roussea said.
“Cameras do malfunction, thus it could bring suspicion upon the officers as to if it had been tampered with,” he said.
Mac Cable, Queens’ police chief, noted several unique features and abilities of the cameras. There are dozens of different models and brands, with some attaching to the officer’s chest and others clipping to an officer’s glasses, he said.
While the cameras worn by campus police officers will be constantly recording, video footage will only be saved permanently if an officer activates the camera, Cable said.
Data will be saved temporarily for 30-second increments, though, he said. The temporary saving of video allows the camera to save footage from 30 seconds prior to an officer activating the camera, in case something were to happen too fast for him or her to start recording.
Cameras will be activated during any field contact involving actual or potential violations of law or university policy, Thrower said.
Officers will not be able to alter or edit the body camera footage in any way.
Campus police said that body cameras are a necessary and appropriate technology for all police forces to implement, explaining that they will increase police openness and transparency.